Friday, January 1, 2010
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Miriam 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
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
Based on the play by Aladar Laszlo.
Adaptation by Grover Jones.
Written by Samson Raphaelson.
Cinematography by Victor Milner.
Art Direction by Hans Dreier.
Costume Design by Travis Banton.
Released October 21, 1932.
A Paramount Picture.
Box Office Information:
Cost of Production: $519,706
Domestic Gross: $475,000
Forgein Gross: (?)
Kay Francis: $4,000/week
Herbert Marshall: $3,500/week
Miriam Hopkins: $1,750/week
Aladar Laszlo’s A Becsuletes Megtalalo, American title reading The Honest Finder, opened in Budapest in December, 1931. The play possessed a certain spark, probably because it had been based off of the life of a real criminal, George Manolescu, who had published his autobiography in 1907. His story was filmed as Manolescus Memoiren (1920), a German silent film directed by Richard Oswald and starring Conrad Veidt.
By the time Paramount acquired the rights to Laszlo’s play, America was in the worst stages of The Great Depression. With millions out of work, movie audiences needed comic relief to get through the tough times. Production began in July, 1932, with Kay Francis even cancelling her planned vacation to even appear in the film. She had just wed Kenneth MacKenna about a year or so ago, and they had finally found the time to really get away. Then Kay reconsidered, “I weighed my honeymoon against the honor of this meant, against the things I would learn under his direction---well, Lubitsch won.”
Though she was the highest paid actor in the film, she was disgruntled over Miriam Hopkins top-billing. This was Kay’s only film for Paramount after completing her contract for them and moving to Warner Brothers. Perhaps they were bitter over her new-found success at a new studio. Perhaps they wanted their own actress to get to the honors because of Kay’s leaving. Whatever the case, they were forced to bill Kay equally in all movie posters and advertisements, and she was billed over Herbert Marshall.
Both Hopkins and Marshall began their film careers around the same year Kay did. And like Kay, they had proved themselves valuable Hollywood assets, due in a large credit to their work on the stage. By the time Trouble in Paradise was made, Hopkins was already the favorite actress of Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian. She would progress at the studio to such works as Design for Living (1933) and The Story of Temple Drake (1933), the latter being one of the most notorious films ever produced.
When Kay’s work in Jewel Robbery (1932) was released on August 13 to great reviews and a warm box office welcoming, Paramount began to anticipate capitalizing off of her success in the film with this one, originally titled The Golden Window. Reviews for Trouble in Paradise were highly favorable, but the film was a financial disappointment. While audiences wanted comedy, they preferred Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery to Lubitsch’s “touch,” and spent their dimes watching Norma Shearer and Fredric March in the classic tearjerker, Smilin’ Through (1932).
A popular vehicle or not, the censors had a fit. Trouble in Paradise was pulled from the screen altogether by 1934, and would not be seen again until the late sixties. Never released on VHS and made only available on DVD as of 2003, the fact that Trouble in Paradise remained so popular for so long without being viewed for decades proves the power of great movie making.
Crook Gaston Monescu feels like he has found his true love in pickpocket Lily. Both know what the other is, but feel that the other is oblivious to their own intentions. Over dinner, Lily tells Monescu that he is a crook. To which he responds that she is a thief, and that she has picked his wallet right out of his pocket. He pulls back the curtains, and shakes it out of her. She asks him for the time, and when he reaches for his watch, it’s not there. She smiles, and pulls it out of her bag and hands it to him.
He smiles as he pulls out her garter. She blushes as he kisses it, throwing it into the air behind him. They collaborate to work as a team, targeting one of the richest women in Europe, Madame Mariette Colet.
Madame Colet oversees a product line of perfumes and fragrances which has been well-established for decades. Since she knows little about the business, and can really care less as long as she receives a pretty penny to play around with, Adolph J. Giron keeps a sharp eye on the company. He has known her family for forty years, in which a secret about his connection to the family isn’t revealed until the end of the picture.
Attending an opera, Mariette looses an expensive handbag. She posts a reward in the local paper, to which everyone and his brother arrives at her doorstep claiming to have found her bag. It isn’t until Gaston walks in and reveals it when she can finally tell Jacques, her butler, to send everyone home.
While she looks all throughout her maid’s room for the checkbook to give Monescu the reward, he takes notice of everything about where she keeps her most important assets. He memorizes the combination to her safe, where she keeps one-hundred thousand francs. When he seems surprised at the amount she keeps in her own house, she asks if he believes she is keeping too much money in the safe. He insists not. If anything, he persuades her, she should put as much more of her money into the safe because of the unstable economic status of the world.
She charmingly smiles and agrees.
Within two weeks, Monescu is working as her secretary, with Lily serving almost as an assistant to him. Monescu handles the bookwork. He gets involved in Mariette’s financial status, fixing out flaws and putting all of her money into one place where he and Lily can seemingly walk away with it.
During all of this robbery, Mariette suspects nothing. She finds herself being more and more tempted to get intimate with Monescu, much to the dismay of Francois Filiba and The Major, both of whom are admirers of Mariette.
At an outdoor party, Mariette flaunts Monescu to all of her guests. They speculate and gossip abour her relationship with him, to which Giron requests Monescu’s private permission. Alone, Giron insists on knowing everything about Monescu’s intentions, and whether or not he should be trusted by Mariette. Monescu insists that there is nothing to hide.
Monescu approaches jealous Filiba and asks where they have met before. Filiba rudely insists that they have never met before, and comments to a guest at how pathetic of a conversation starter that was.
The relationship between Monescu and Mariette begins to seriously ruffle the feathers of Lily, who insists on leaving the house immediately. Monescu comes to agree, but gets distracted before Mariette leaves for a party one night. Things are about to get very serious for them, and Monescu insists that she leave for her party before anything happens that might altar the relationship between them.
She reluctantly agrees.
While half attending the party and half day-dreaming about Monescu, the Major and Filiba talk of their skepticism of Monescu. The Major says that he doesn’t seem to be the secretary type, that Gaston struck him as more of a doctor. Filiba realizes that he has indeed met Monescu before; that Monescu posed as a dentist and robbed him blind just a few weeks earlier.
The accusations of Monescu’s true intentions are enough to have Mariette leave the party.
Meanwhile, Giron is at the house and tells Gaston that he knows about everything. Monescu concurs with the accusations, but insists that if Giron call the police on him, that he will return the favor. There’s no one better than a crook to uncover the work of another, and, while going over the finances, Monescu realizes that Giron has conned millions away from the Colet family for the forty years he has known them.
Mariette returns home. Lily and Monescu have a major argument, to which she insists that she is leaving right away with all of the money that Mariette has hidden in the safe. When Mariette comes to realize that Lily and Monescu have been planning to con her out of everything, she’s dumbfounded, though more disappointed that she couldn’t have to opportunity to be with Gaston.
They leave immediately.
In the cab, Lily and Monescu reveal two handbags, pearl necklaces, and the one hundred thousand francs they have stolen from Mariette. They laugh and reconcile, planning to stay with each other.
This movie is very well directed. There are really great set ups, such as the use of a clock to show the drastic change of time while we only hear the voices of the characters. And the silhouette of Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall about to kiss being shown over a bed. And who can forget the comedy of Miriam Hopkins telling Kay that she can have her lousy one-hundred thousand francs before she finishes giving Kay a piece of her mind, then rushes over to the bed to grab it and storm out of the room.
Of the three leading stars, Herbert Marshall gets the most attention from the camera. He is the real star of the film, is given control from all of the other characters in the story, and dominates this movie with his debonair persona, acting talent, and ability to love a beautiful silver-screen lady of the Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins mold.
He is intelligent. He knows all of the tricks, but there is not one stain on his image. One can not think less of him for his criminal activities, but rather admire him for his work. His assistance by Miriam Hopkins is phenomenal. She was always a great physical comedienne, making the most of her body movements and, best of all, facial expressions which are enough to make one laugh out loud.
So many of her comedy scenes remain as fresh as the day they were filmed. Her work has greatly withstood the test of time, which is difficult to achieve for most comics.
Kay Francis does well with stealing a lot of the movie for herself, but her approach to the comedy is dated, though it seems to work here. She smiles knowingly, says all of her lines overly ditzy with a smirk on her face, all while throwing her hands about in the air as she makes her point. But whatever she does it pays off by the final reel. She is beautifully photographed, and her gowns are almost as memorable as the movie itself.
Look at the fur she wears to the dinner party. Consisting of two foxes, they hook together at the mouths. It’s so bizarre, making one wonder if that was designed purposely for comedy or not. There were so many outrageous movie costumes back then, and Kay wore many of them herself, but this is one of her most memorable to me.
What greatly helps Marshall, Hopkins, and Francis is their dialogue, which is brilliant. After watching so many Warner Brothers movies, listening to the soundtrack of a first-rate Paramount production is like finding an entire new medium. The lines are so clever, so snappy yet intelligent, and the delivery of them by the headlining cast deserves accolades for all of them.
Almost as strong as the movie dialogue is the soundtrack. After five years of perfecting the technology, sound recorders were making movie soundtracks more and more important to the finished films. In Trouble In Paradise, the music is plays equally as big a role as the headlining actors do. Giving a correct atmosphere to the film, it defines several scenes.
Also a character in this movie is the use of overt sexual innuendos.
My personal misunderstanding of Lubitsch comedies aside, this is a film masterpiece, and considered worthy enough to be in the National Film Registry. And if this is the most known Kay Francis film, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As other authors have pointed out, had she made only this movie people would still talk about her.
Below: Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins had first made 24 Hours (1931) together. Trouble in Paradise was the last film they made with one another, though they would later be announced as the stars of The Sisters (1938). The property was given to Bette Davis and Anita Louise.
Surely "Trouble in Paradise," a picture which was presented at the Rivoli yesterday, points no moral and the tale it tells is scant and innocuous, yet, because it was fashioned by the alert-minded Ernst Lubitsch, it is a shimmering, engaging piece of work. In virtually every scene the lively imagination of the German producer shines forth and it seems as though he were the only person in Hollywood who could have turned out such an effective entertainment from such a feathery story.
Mr. Lubitsch has drawn heavily upon Paramount's resources for his scenic designs, which are an important adjunct to this flippant film. Here the director has a flair for beautiful clocks of various types and in one sequence, while the voices of two players are heard carrying on their bantering, all one sees is a clock on a table. When the characters pass into another room, there is still another clock. Upstairs there is a modernistic, grandfather clock and outside a window there is the tower from which chimes tell the hour. The settings are lovely and spacious with meticuluous attention to furnishings. No more inviting example of 1932 decorations has been offered on the screen.
This merry trifle, which was first spun as a play by Laszlo Aladar and arranged for a motion picture by Grover Jones and Samson Raphaelson, deals, if you please, with those light-fingered gentry who rob and pick pockets. Imagine the charming Miriam Hopkins impersonating an ingratiating, capable thief! Then try to visualize Herbert Marshall as a delightful scoundrel who might look upon Alias Jimmy Valentine as a posing blunderer! They are such an interesting pair of crooks that it is not altogether astonishing that the other characters find them companionable.
First one has a glimpse of Venice with a refuse collector singing "O Sole Mio" as he steers his craft through the canals. The camera then introduces Gaston Monescu posing as a baron, and later Lily, whom Gaston calls his "little shoplifter" and "sweet little pickpocket."
This pair eventually turn their attention to Paris and Mme. Marianne Colet, the widow of a wealthy perfumery manufacturer. Marianne, impersonated by Kay Francis, has two suitors, neither of whom finds much favor with her. One is the Major, played by Charles Ruggles, who stays quite sober throughout the proceedings, and the other is Francois, who has been an easy victim for Gaston in the City of the Doges.
Through returning Mme. Colet's precious bag, which he had stolen, Gaston, after accepting the 20,000 francs' reward and explaining that he is one of the new poor, soon is ensconced in Marianne Colet's mansion as her secretary, and Lily, not long afterward, is employed as a typist. She has to sit on her hands when talking to Marianne Colet, for fear she might hurt the chances of stealing 100,000 francs in cash—cash being always better than jewelry—by pilfering one of the pieces of jewelry in a box.
As for Marianne Colet, one might say that her interest in Gaston is keener than most women, who employ secretaries, and it prompts the fair but reprehensible Lily to tell Gaston that she admires him as a burglar and a thief, but she warns him not to sink to the low level of a gigolo.
After their fashion, they have a romantic and busy time at Marianne Colet's. There are moments when it looks as though Mr. Lubitsch were going to let fly a few ideas like René Clair's, but he stops himself and never for an instant can it be said that Lubitsch ever copies another director. Time and again in this feature he offers ideas which will undoubtedly be well imitated in Hollywood. He does not take this fable seriously at all, but he leaves nothing undone to make it the sort of thing that will keep audiences in a constant state of chuckles.
Mr. Marshall is as smooth and easy as ever. He looks more the baron than the thief Gaston. It is not surprising that Marianne thinks of promoting him from secretary to husband. Miss Hopkins makes Lily a very interesting person, who steals as another girl might sing. Lily even steals her way out of the last scene in the film. Kay Francis is attractive and able as Marianne, whose sins consist of being too credulous and in being very fond of romantic adventures.
Written by Mordaunt Hall. Published in the New York Times, November 9, 1932.
Despite the Lubitsch artistry, much of which is technically apparent, it's not good cinema in toto. For one thing, it's predicated on a totally meretricious premise. Herbert Marshall is the gentleman crook. Miriam Hopkins is a light-fingered lady. Kay Francis is a rich young widow who owns the largest parfumerie in Paris. She's decidedly on the make for Marshall, and his appointment as her 'secretary' inspires beaucoup gossip.
Rest becomes a proposition of cheating cheaters as the well-mannered rogue exposes C. Aubrey Smith, the parfumerie's general manager, at the same time climaxing into a triangle among the two attractive femmes and Marshall.
The dialog is bright [from the play The Honest Finder by Laszlo Aladar] and the Lubitsch montage is per usually tres artistique, but somehow the whole thing misses.
There's some good trouping by all concerned, plus the intriguing Continental atmosphere of the Grand Hotel on the Grand Canal, Venice, plus ultra-modern social deportment in smart Parisian society.
Published in Variety in November, 1932.
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