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Trouble in Paradise - 1932

rouble in Paradise Kay Francis

Trouble in Paradise - Released Oct 21, 1931. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Love trouble between sweetheart professional thieves and their latest mark

Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall are two professional thieves on a grand tour through Europe filching the rich while masquerading as nobility. They meet (with the intention of robbing the other) and fall in love. Shortly thereafter they find a new mark, perfume magnate Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), who has lost an expensive diamond-encrusted handbag while at the opera. Only, she didn't actually lose it, the two thieves have taken it.

Herbert Marshalls character, famed thief Gaston Monescu, uses the handbag as a tool to ingratiate himself into Colet's household, presenting the handbag for the reward (Colet offered 20,000 francs for its return. Monescu estimated he could only get 5,000 francs for the handbag through a fence).

Marshall soon has himself hired into Colet's home as a new personal secretary after forcing a wild-haired political agitator from her home who has appeared to announce "phooey" upon her for owning such expensive objects "during times like these." Shortly after Monescu also berates Colet politely when he observes how poorly managed her personal lifestyle is (she can't find her checkbook in order to write out the reward money to him). When he finally says how he would spank her for her desultory ways "like a father" the ad hoc interview is over and he is hired as the new secretary.

At first the two crooks are delighted with the new access to pull off a heist of Colet's money, but soon complications arise as Monescu and Collett are obviously infatuated with one another and when Miriam Hopkins is included in the (daytime) running of the household as another secretary, this combustible triangle is complete.

Though the characters in Trouble in Paradise will intone several times about "times like these" (meaning the great depression then in progress when this 1931 film appeared) the carefully designed aesthetics of the aristocracy, retired military officers and manufacturers who exist in this Hollywood Paris of art deco homes seems completely unaffected by matters of money (it is apparently unlimited). They are instead focused on love problems.

Lubitsch's comedy is his usual mix of affection and making fun of his main characters, with the idiocy of the wealthy mitigated by the beautiful luxury of their lives and the nearby idiocy of the other levels of society (nobody escapes an equal tar-and-feathering in Lubitsch comedies, though there is an exception: Garbo didn't suffer quite as much in the Lubitsch Ninotchka).

And there are a lot of these problems abounding in Paradise, with Herbert Charles Ruggle as 'The Major' and Edward Everett Horton as 'Francois Filiba' on hand as high society casanovas who combined with Colet form another love triangle. But the two men, though they compete with one another (and the rest of Malekind) in trying to get Collet's amorous attention, have no chance whatsoever of capturing Collet's hand (she seems to feel sorry for them, offering advice on how the two should get along better. After all, the pair really only have each other for company, forever stalled outside of Collette's private chambers).

It is the arrival of master thief Monescu that upends this very safe arrangement. With the Monescu and Collet eyeing each other like a combination of a mystery revealed and prime-cut steak, it is our nominal top-billed star of the movie, Miriam Hopkins, who is the suffering party. She may have first billing in the credits, but she is definitely the third wheel here.

Another Lubitsch film: The Shop Around the Corner

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Original Page Aug 2008 | Updated Jan 2014

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