The film that established the fabled 'Lubitsch Touch" lay unseen for decades when the Motion Picture Production Code began to be enforced in 1934. It had caused a sensation upon its release in 1932, making many critics' Top Ten lists, and garnering a nomination for Best Picture at the National Board Of Review, but its audacity also placed it squarely in the firing line of The Hays Office of censors, and when Joseph Breen assumed control two years later, it was one of the Catholic condemned movies that was refused a re-release.
Beautiful thief, Lily (Miriam Hopkins) meets master swindler, Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) over dinner as they are both in the process of robbing each other. Falling desperately in love, they immediately shack up, plotting to take the rich and beautiful Madame Colet (Kay Francis) for everything she's got.
It isn't long, however, before Monescu finds himself smitten with the equally infatuated Colet, throwing Lily and Gaston's plan into turmoil, and arousing the suspicions of Colet's admirer, The Major (Charlie Ruggles), and Francois Filiba (Edward Everett Horton), a former victim of Monescu.
From its dazzling opening scene, a masterclass in comedy where Marshall and Hopkins reveal the items they've been stealing from each other all throughout dinner, to a superb sequence sequence involving nothing but shots of clock faces to tell a tale of seduction and betrayal, and to its magnificent finale in which no one at all gets their just desserts, 'Trouble In Paradise' thoroughly earns its reputation as one of cinema's great comedies, and fully endorses Ernst Lubitsch as a master of his craft.
It's smart from the off, with dialogue to kill for, and a cast of characters so debauched and yet so loveable, that it dizzies the mind. Movie conventions and cliches constantly suggest that certain characters will end up with other certain characters, that the wind will blow a particular way, and it's to the movie's, and creators Lubitsch and Samson Raphaelson's eternal credit, that the easy ending you're expecting doesn't arrive.
It's a movie that luxuriates in its maturity, a sophisticated romance, brilliantly funny and breathtakingly performed, made by adults for an adult audience. No mean feat in 1932, with the Hays Office breathing down the neck of most major studios. Within ten minutes, Marshall and Hopkins have slept together, and it isn't long before Francis has sown her oats too. It's for this reason that the movie feels so contemporary. It's truly like watching a movie from today, only a hell of a lot smarter, with heaps more charm than Hollywood can manage today.
And how refreshing to see that criminals can be funny, charming and loveable, that adults in 1932 did have sex, and that the cinema of several generations ago was sometimes way ahead of its time.
Scintillating, maddeningly funny, and endlessly charming. Watch out, it might just steal your heart...