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Craig's Movie Club
Movie Reviews

Spotlight on: Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise

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Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise

This wonderful confection from Ernst Lubitsch is a marvelous pre-Hays Code example of what can be done to imply sex. Trouble in Paradise simply drips with it, but nothing but the slightest hint of cleavage is shown. The script (from Samson Raphaelson and Grover Jones, adapted from the play The Honest Finder by Lazslo Aladar) is literate and flows with banter, offering the most sophisticated of comic dialogue.

Herbert Marshall stars as the dapper Gaston Monescu, "the man who walked into the bank of Constantinople, and walked out with the bank of Constantinople." We first meet him in Venice, where he has completed a robbery of François Filiba (the inimitable Edward Everett Horton), just before having a romantic dinner with his love, Lily Vautier (Miriam Hopkins).

They are both career crooks (and she has another secret, unknown to him) and their light-hearted pickpocketing of each other is my image of the ideal romantic byplay. Ever so intimate (and quite racy, if you think about it), but with a sense of fun.

Gaston and Lily's relationship begins to suffer when he puts the moves on the exceptionally beautiful (and rich!) Mariette Colet (Kay Francis, whose difficulty pronouncing Rs had her nicknamed "the wavishing Kay Fwancis" on the Warner backlot), widow of a cosmetics king, for the 850,000 franc insurance payout that is soon to come. Gaston sets himself up as her personal secretary by laying on the charm (and discipline!), and Mariette simply glows when he is around. Lily, inserting herself as Gaston's own secretary, is a perfect delight, fussing and fuming at their relationship while trying to keep her hands from lifting little trinkets around the house.

Trouble in Paradise is ideal in many ways. It barely treads near reality -- or, at least, not a reality that most of us will ever see -- but that is part of its charm. This is cinema at its very best. It is funny, sexy, and seems fresh even today, far surpassing the modern idea of "romantic comedy." Fortunately, it is finally available to purchase on a spectacular Criterion DVD (my original VHS copy was recorded from American Movie Classics) with extras including an informative commentary from Lubitsch's biographer Scott Eyman and one of the director's early short films. One of the best motion pictures of all time can finally find a modern audience.

And if you liked that...

Alfred E. Green's The Goose and the Gander

Kay Francis (Mariette Colet in Trouble in Paradise) stars as Georgiana in The Goose and the Gander, a surprisingly racy (given that it was released during the enforcement of the Hays Code) bedroom farce from 1935. Georgiana runs into her ex-husband Ralph Summers (Ralph Forbes), whose current wife Betty (Genevieve Tobin) Georgiana has just seen making plans with her paramour, Bob (George Brent). In order to show Ralph the kind of woman he left her for, Georgiana schemes to get everyone together at her lodge under false pretenses, so Ralph can discover Betty with Bob. Ralph agrees because he wants to be alone with Georgiana -- remember, what's good for the goose is good for the gander -- but things get more complicated when a pair of jewel thieves (John Eldredge and Claire Dodd) steal Betty's car and are sent to the lodge by mistake, whereupon they pose as "Ralph and Betty Summers."

Confused yet? Well, eventually the police show up and get everything all mixed up. Georgiana figures things out pretty quickly, though, and deviously plays along to the hilarious discomfort (O, schadenfreude!) of the others. Meanwhile, she takes the opportunity to put the moves on Bob, to his reciprocal glee, but to Betty's chagrin. But it is a comedy, remember, so most everyone ends up happy in the end (even if it doesn't always quite fit with their characters' preceding actions).

The beautiful and charming Kay Francis, an actress with a vast filmography of which little is available on video, is truly the star here. She is in her element playing a member of polite society with amusingly intentions. She is so in control of all the actions on the screen that the other characters seem to be acting merely as her puppets. The acting is solid all around, with the simple direction of Alfred E. Green serving Charles Kenyon's script quite well. At just over an hour, The Goose and the Gander is the ideal length for an afternoon's diversion, and a fine example of the kind of sophisticated comedy in which Hollywood specialized in the 1930s. It's also only one of several films Francis made with Brent, so if this pairing was enjoyable, there are more to seek.

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