From the Vault: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise is one of the great “forgotten” classics from Hollywood’s golden age. Despite, being lauded by critics since it’s release, the film has never achieved the popularity it so richly deserves.

The plot of the film centres on a jewel thief named Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) who falls in love with a fellow thief named Lily (Miriam Hopkins) after they attempt to con each other, thinking one of them is descended from royalty. They become a team and join forces to con a perfume company owner (Kay Francis), but Monescu has a change of heart and begins to fall for her, causing trouble with his relationship with Lily.

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Trouble In Paradise plays like an almost parody of the romantic comedy and mocks the conventions of the (then) young genre. The dialogue is almost too perfect, sophisticated, charming and witty and sets the standard for Ernst Lubitsch’s future comedies including the sublime, Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo and the wonderful The Shop Around The Corner (1940) with James Stewart.

The cast is uniformly excellent with Marshall the epitome of class and restraint. His dry line readings and calm demeanor actually enhance the comedy and it’s doubtful that even the master of charm himself, Cary Grant, could match such a portrayal.

Miriam Hopkins is just great in this. She is probably most remembered by horror fans for her portrayal of the doomed prostitute in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) with Frederic March. In this film she proves her versatility and her character is pretty hilarious especially when getting turned on by Marshall’s thieving exploits, which probably got some of the biggest laughs from myself and the audience I enjoyed this with.

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Kay Francis was always lovely and classy in practically everything she was in and this film is not too different. You have real sympathy for her when the two thieves are trying to scam her and you almost want the film to go a different way by the end, but it’s doubtful that anything could top that ending which is just pure magic. Even Francis’ similar role in the excellent Jewel Robbery (1932) opposite the always enjoyable William Powell could not hope to match the perfection of her performance here and the undeniable chemistry between her and Marshall.

The most amazing feat of this film is how modern it appears to today’s audience. It’s difficult to consider a film that manages to be racier and more sophisticated than this. It’s not as madcap as some of the later screwball comedies of the period but is certainly as funny and despite stiff competition from that decade’s many wonderful comedies, this may be the best of the romantic comedies produced in the 1930s.

It’s not just the Lubitsch charm that keeps it afloat or even the great cast but the fact that it is just a very, very funny movie and remains as watchable today as it was over eighty years ago!

This film deserves a wider audience. It’s not just a wonderful classic comedy from yesteryear. It’s one of the greatest movies ever made. Do yourself a favour and seek out the Criterion.

You’ll thank yourself later.

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