In 1991, 'Trouble in Paradise' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
After his emigration from Europe and arrival in Hollywood at the tail end of the silent era, Ernst Lubitsch quickly established himself as a master of the technical with an ear for comedic pacing. Admirers called his particular talents the 'Lubitsch Touch', but Lubitsch didn't work with any set formula or system. Rather, he brought from Europe a sophisticated sensibility that sent gentle shock waves through Hollywood, changing the tone of American comedies and leading to the rise of the 'screwball' antics of Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder, both of whom revered him.
But that same sophistication kept Lubitsch from veering precipitously toward slapstick or more overt physical humor. That famed 'Lubitsch Touch' indicated his deft method of delivering sexual politics with a a barely discernible wink, and that meant a clever way with words and stories to subvert, surmount, or gently prod the relatively prudish (though still pre-Hays Code) American standards.
The most carnal and clever aspects of the 'Lubitsch Touch' are firmly on display from the first frame of 'Trouble in Paradise', one of the director's first sound features. The title appears initially only in parts, so that for a moment the words 'trouble in ..' linger over a shot of a bed. By the time the word 'Paradise' finally pops up, Lubitsch has already made clear what he meant by 'Trouble in Paradise'. The film may as well be titled 'Trouble in Bed.' Of course 'Trouble in Paradise' is only indirectly about sex, but that is typically the case with romantic comedies, of which Lubitsch was a significant pioneer.
High class jewel thief, Herbert Marshall and beautiful pickpocket, Miriam Hopkins are a match made in heaven. Both are expert thieves and con artists, and their courtship consists of robbing each other blind one fateful night in Venice. Over dinner they trade tentative praise, revealing stolen personal items in lieu of more traditional flirtation. Theirs is a romance built on deception, an ironic aphrodisiac, and they don't think anything of the other's chosen profession. 'Baron, you are a crook,' asserts Hopkins, 'May I have the salt?'. Life is good until the pair set their eyes on heiress Kay Francis. Hopkins sees a a big bank account, but Marshall may see more. He tries to seduce his way into her safe, but finds his feelings for the heiress keep getting in the way.
The film's plot machinations are needed to toss the characters together, but'Trouble in Paradise' is less concerned with the big con than it is with companionship. Marshall initially wants Francis's money, but all the lonely Francis wants is Marshall, and soon the two become lovers, much to the chagrin of Hopkins. But 'Trouble in Paradise' is nowhere near as predictable as it seems. Love is something that can't be stolen or bought, which explains the quandary of Lubitsch's compulsively criminal lead characters. As much as Marshall and Hopkins covet the acquisition of Francis's fortune, even at the cost of their relationship, they realize their uniquely larcenous dispositions, make them particularly well-suited for one another.
With this sparkling, sophisticated comedy Lubitsch reaches a wonderful peak of witty comic invention.
Main CastMiriam Hopkins ... Lily
Kay Francis ... Madame Mariette Colet
Herbert Marshall ... Gaston Monescu
Charles Ruggles ... The Major
Edward Everett Horton ... François Filiba
C. Aubrey Smith ... Adolph J. Giron
Robert Greig ... Jacques, Mariette's Butler
Leonid Kinskey ... The Communist
George Humbert ... Waiter
CreditsDirector ... Ernst Lubitsch
Writers ... Aladár László (play)
Screenplay ... Samson Raphaelson
Adaptation ... Grover Jones
Cinematography ... Victor Milner
Art direction ... Hans Dreier
Costume design ... Travis Banton
Release Date ... 21 October 1932 (USA)
Academy AwardsNo Wins: