...Why oh why did I doubt Ernst Lubitsch?
Jewel thieves Herbert Marshall
and Miriam Hopkins
are partners-in crime ( are they even married? I s'pose they're deliciously NOT
in the wonderful world of pre-code ) in “TROUBLE IN PARADISE.”
They are a deee-light to watch (...and trust me, no one is more shocked to hear me say that than me ) as they go after the big Kahuna, the raven-haired Kay Francis
. Watching Marshall and Hopkins is like watching a tennis or fencing match; they volley’d and parried. Their oneupsmanship was as precise as a Swiss watch. Lying and stealing were compulsive for them. They couldn’t help themselves. Hopkins has to actually sit on her hands to keep from stealing Francis’ jewels.
When I first got a gander of Miriam Hopkins, I got scared. “Here we go,”
I thought. “She’s all affected again.”
When Lubitsch reveals her ruse, I laugh and relax and realize she’s handling the comedy very nicely. ( Uh-oh, I guess it’s time for me to break out “Design for Living”, huh? Baby steps, please. ) When she plays her scene with Francis, she’s pitch perfect. She’s now the dowdy secretary with horn-rimmed glasses after we’ve seen her in some stunning and devastating outfits. She has to play it cool, but they both understand each other in that way we women do when we’re competing for the same man. In their case, that man is Herbert Marshall.
Who knew he was spry and nimble ( though I know it wasn’t him bounding and sprinting up and down those stairs. ) He had a nimble way with the language of ‘sophisticated comedy’ and spoke it well. Why didn’t somebody tell me?
You mean I have to go back to the 30’s for the men, too? His deadpan delivery and erudite diction works surprisingly well here. I say surprisingly because it’s a surprise to me, never having seen him this way. The last two times I saw Herbert Marshall he was:( 1. )
in a car going over a cliff and ( 2. )
dying on a staircase with Bette Davis’ voice: “I’ll be waiting for you to die,”
ringing in his ears. ( This right after she confesses that with all her heart she still
loves the man she killed. ) That’s
the Herbert Marshall I
know. Well here, in 1932, he’s a fast-talking, quick-thinker who talks his way out of any situation. He’s such a talker, he turns the table on his accuser(s) until they
are the ones who flee with guilt. He has a wonderful scene volleying with character actor: C. Aubrey Smith. Marshall’s character should have been a politician instead of a thief; this way he could legally steal from his constituents...with their blessing!
Kay Francis is no piker in all this. Yes, she’s the "straight man" here; the girl who’s about to be taken. But her raison d’etre comes from a different place. She’s fallen for Marshall. She puts her complete faith and trust and business in his hands. He's a cad, but why don't I dislike him? She woos him, somewhat vamps him. He thinks he’s out to get her, but she’s two steps ahead of him, and walking towards the boudoir. He's falling for her. And she’s very smart. What a handsome woman she is. I was struck by her blackness; black gowns and that jet black hair. She makes me think of sable, or a raven. She’s regal, with a smoky darkness. She made quite a contrast to Miriam Hopkins, a soft dewy blonde, who was also quite beautiful in this film.. I like that Francis is oblivious to everything other than getting Marshall, but I think underneath she knew the score, and I like how that played out. Click foto to read about the Style of Kay Francis
The clothes in this movie are absolutely divine. Breathtaking. I'm not one who pays attention to clothes, but I would have killed for any one outfit of Francis' or Hopkins' - especially this black number that Francis wears. ( I can't describe it, but I swear, I swooned a little in my seat.
And if fashion IS your thing, here
is a good article for you to read about the clothes in "Trouble in Paradise" done by Travis Banton. )
Lubitsch packs a lot of plot and moves things along swiftly. I like how we have a montage of servants responding to Francis, and a later montage of those same servants responding to Marshall. Lubitsch keeps the camera on a clock, and we just hear the voices in the scene, as time moves forward. And he takes his time to let a character set up a joke so that when we hear the punchline later in the movie ( “TONSILS!”
) he trusts us to remember, and laugh. Oh he’s got The Touch
Last but not least another find for me, who would have made a great comic team: Edward Everett Horton
and Charles Ruggles.
They were hilarious together, and made perfect foils for each other as they tried to out do each other to win Francis’ hand. Neither stood a snowball’s chance, if tall dark and handsome were on the scene. But it was great fun to watch them try, and to see them annoy and outwit each other.
When the jig is up, the movie ends beautifully, perfectly...justly. The lesson: we are all meant to be with whom we are meant to be with. I learned more than I bargained for from Lubitsch during this movie:( 1. )
how to tell a story( 2. )
how to present the story and( 3. )
how to be a good sport when you lose the thing you want...that’s not really
meant for you. I shall hold Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis as beacons in that regard. I’d do well to remember that.