Trouble in Paradise (1932) dir. Ernst Lubitsch
Two thieves meet, fall in love, and conspire to delude a rich, beautiful woman out of a small fortune. A word to the wise – if you’re in love with a dashing young con man, do not suggest a wealthy winsome widow as the next mark.
The wacky hidden identity, love-triangle plot and witty banter brings screwball comedies to mind. But, there is a difference. Screwball comedy delivers the lines at a rapid-fire pace. If It Happened One Night or The Lady Eve is a tennis match, Trouble in Paradise is baseball. The dialogue is not slow, but is sophisticated, wry, intelligent. It’s what you might expect out of your cleverest flirting friends at a one-drink party.
Made just before the Hays Code was really enforced, Trouble in Paradise is remarkable for its frankness about sex. It’s certainly not crude or vulgar by any means – we know who slept with who through devices like a dissolve from a couch and a character walking out of someone else’s bedroom. The story is clear, and easy to follow. Perhaps during the terrible few Code decades, audiences were better at picking up on cues than audiences are today – growing up, I always thought Marlon Brando was the hero of A Streetcar Named Desire. It wasn’t until a college English Literature class that I learned about all the rape that had been hinted at far too softly.
And, of course, the resolution is eminently non-Hays. It is the most satisfactory, desirable resolution one can think of for the story, and the only one that really follows the characters’ logic. But if Trouble in Paradise were to be made just a couple years later, it would have been axed.
Trouble in Paradise is #168 on the Top 1000 Films list I’m working on. I’ve now seen 385.