July 10, 2006

Trouble in Paradise

Reviewer: Jonathan Marlow
Rating (out of 5): ****½

You've seen Kane. You've seen Potemkin. You're done with the "classics," right? Wrong.

While it is oft-repeated that the introduction of the microphone resulted in a severe reduction in camera movement during the late-1920s/early-1930s, the German ex-pats Lang and Lubitsch were seemingly unaffected by these challenges. Their earliest experiments with sound show immediate mastery, unlike their American counterparts. Trouble in Paradise, in particular, is a highwater mark for Lubitsch and his infamous "touch." Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins were never better. The skillfully constructed plot, the fully realized secondary characters, the deft humor, the surprisingly risqué sexual politics and carefully crafted class struggle make this one of the finest of all films, pre-code or otherwise. A few short years later, a film such as this, namely, one that fails to follow the "crime doesn't pay" maxim, couldn't have been made.

Ernst Lubitsch's economy of style, taking us from Venice to Paris, recreates the cosmopolitan air of the idle rich during the period between the wars (and the right atmosphere for a conniving duo to separate Colet and Company from their money). Marshall excellently portrays a self-made man - a product of his time and, by necessity, a criminal. Presented with the opportunity to have it all (the lovely widow, the money), he proves "once a thief, always a thief" and keeps his "honor" intact. A beautiful film full of fantastic details and clearly one of the funniest comedies ever made.

Never released on video (except as part of a laserdisc boxed set) until now and therein largely unknown, Criterion once again does a masterful treatment of an incredible film. The disc includes commentary by Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman and a rare silent (The Merry Jail, which, while appreciated, bears little resemblance to Paradise). -- Jonathan Marlow

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