Trouble in Paradise (1932)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Trouble in Paradise</strong> (1932)

(On Cable TV, March 2018) As I dig deeper in film history, few words become as interesting as “pre-code comedy”.  The more I watch older films, the more I complain about the Hays Production Code that effectively stunted the thematic development of American cinema between 1934 and 1960 (ish). But there is a brief time, roughly 1930–1934, during which Hollywood movies, having more or less mastered the grammar of cinema, was moving toward bolder and more daring subject matter. These movies feel considerably fresher than many subsequent films in their ability to grapple with authentically adult subject matter. While I wouldn’t call Trouble in Paradise an all-time classic nor a boundary-pushing film, its Pre-Code nature makes it so that it’s just spicy enough to be worth a rewarding viewing experience. Focusing on a pair of expert thieves out to swindle a rich French heiress, this is a romantic crime comedy that works decently well on several levels. As a pure comedy, it features witty dialogue, strong characters and an amiable sense of sophisticated style. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins make for likable criminal heroes (their introductory dinner is a lot of fun), their loyalty to each other tested when Kay Francis enters the picture as a rich target. Director Ernst Lubitsch handles the elements of his film with a deft touch (indeed, “The Lubitsch touch” that could be seen in later movies such as The Shop Around the Corner), producing a well-rounded piece of work. What’s not so obvious to modern audiences since then used to moral complexity is the idea of presenting two outright thieves as romantic heroes: while it’s since been done over and over again in modern cinema, this was a bit of a sensation at the time, and the film effectively disappeared from public circulation for decades (until 1968) once the Hays Code was enforced two years later. Marvel, then, that we twenty-first century cinephiles now have access to something that many earlier audience didn’t. And marvel that, thanks to more natural non-enforced moral standards, Trouble in Paradise still plays really well today, more than eighty-five years later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *