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Trouble in Paradise | Old Classic?…Newly Reviewed

Here’s Gini’s lastest tackling what Turner Classic Movies’

1932’s Trouble in Paradise

Billed as a screwball comedy

 

Trouble in Paradise follows a gentleman conman/pickpocket/thief and the woman he meets who is his counterpart – they fall in love because he’s the best and she’s the best and it’s all so fantastic. Trouble comes when they plan to con a rich – and young and attractive – widow out of 800,000 francs.

I approached Bachelor Mother with some trepidation because of this movie. But does that mean Trouble in Paradise is a dud? Not necessarily…

Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) is charming and suave and good at what he does – and what he does is con people, steal from people, and live fabulously. Lily (Miriam Hopkins) falls for him, but of course, and he falls just as madly back because she’s the female version of himself. For each one, the other is the only person they can truly be themselves with. But when Gaston gets himself hired by rich, young, and beautiful Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis) in order to con her out of a sizable chunk of cash, he finds that he’s working two schemes – getting her money and wooing her. Which, of course, doesn’t sit well with Lily.

Gaston’s influence over Madame Colet doesn’t sit well with the variety of men around her who are either trying to catch and keep her, possibly swindle her themselves, or protect her. There’s a good supporting cast, including our friend Charles Ruggles (from Ruggles of Red Gap) as The Major, Edward Everett Horton as François Filiba – around whom much of the actual humor centers – and C. Aubrey Smith as Adolph J. Giron. Sets are good and costuming lovely.

I happen to be a sucker for con artist movies. Perhaps I saw The Sting at too early an age but, basically, if there’s a con going on, I want to watch. The cons in this movie work, though they’re unlikely to surprise any modern audiences. Most of the film takes place in France, and it’s got a Continental flair to it, though it’s an almost 90-year-old flair, so some of the “complications” and situations seem archaic while others are still timely.

And Trouble in Paradise is not terrible. It earns its setup, it’s complications and its ending. What it wasn’t for me was overwhelmingly funny. It’s funny in parts, and screwball in parts, but it’s not up to what I consider top level screwball comedies. Also, the dialog is very understated, to the point where it can be hard to hear. Most times in screwballs, they’re tossing off dialog so fast you can’t hear it. In this case, much of the dialog is being murmured, making it just as hard to catch.

The plot moves along at a pace that doesn’t seem overwhelmingly slow to a modern eye, but there are a lot of languid scenes where we’re watching someone walk up and down stairs and such that make the movie drag a bit. I’d have preferred more actual humor and less watching, but in 1932, looking at all the beautiful sets and costuming was undoubtedly part of the overall experience and something that audiences enjoyed.

This is a movie by Ernst Lubitsch and it’s understandable why Turner Classic Movies thinks it’s worth screening. I think it’s worth seeing, too – it’s stuck with me, even though I wouldn’t put it on my Best Of list. Plus, Lubitsch was a master, so seeing his work is worthwhile

if only for that. And, of course, you need to watch to find out who got the suave guy in the end – the rich one or the crooked one.

Trouble in Paradise won’t knock any of the top screwball comedies off their perches, but as a pleasant way to spend about 80 minutes, it’s as good a choice as many and a far better option than some.

3 stars out of 5


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