Thursday, August 20, 2009

Trouble in Paradise

Tonight's TCM selection is Trouble In Paradise, airing at 9:45 PM ET.

Today's honoree in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, Miriam Hopkins, plays Lily, a pickpocket making her way through Europe. She meets and falls in love with gentleman thief Gaston (Herbert Marshall), and they start scamming people together. This would work, except that they have to keep moving from place to place to stay one step ahead of the law. Eventually, though, Gaston gets an idea. The two of them will go to work for Parisian perfume executive Marie Colet (Kay Francis), worming their way into positions of trust so they can later scam her.

At first, their scheme seems to be going to plan. That is, until Gaston starts to fall in love with Colet. Worse, one of Colet's former suitors (Edward Everett Horton) shows up. Not only does he want the girl back; he thinks he recognizes Gaston, having been one of Gaston's previous victims! From there, it's a frantic denouement as Gaston tries to stay one step ahead of the law, and get the girl.

Ernst Lubitsch directed this movie all the way back in 1932. Lubitsch was one of the earliest of the "elegant" comic directors, preceding people like Mitchell Leisen or Billy Wilder by several years, and even working his magic before the era of the screwball comedy. In some ways, it's amazing that a movie like this got made as early as it did. I think that it wasn't until the advent of Busby Berkeley a year later that Hollywood finally worked out all the kinks in converting to sound, and the possibilities of what could be done with the new medium of talking pictures. Before then, a lot of the feature-length comedies were either filmed stage plays -- with the stagy look (although Trouble in Paradise is based on a play, there's nothing stagy about it) -- or static drawing-room comedies of manners, movies which look incredibly dated today. Lubitsch's work, however, is a giant step forward.

Trouble in Paradise has been released to DVD, but it's part of the more expensive Criterion Collection.

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