#298 Trouble In Paradise
(1932, Ernst Lubitsch)
“If you behave like a gentleman, I’ll break your neck”
Film noir is a genre I have an interest in, but it’s not always fantastic. While normally I enjoy a good crime caper or gritty detective thriller, there are plenty of duds out there. How well does Trouble In Paradise fair?
Centred on two master thieves, Trouble In Paradise is a crime caper about the perils of working with your partner. In Venice, a master thief known as Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) is pretending to be nobility to get easy access to wealthy targets. When he invites a woman named Lily (Miriam Hopkins) to his room, it turns out that she’s a thief pulling the same stunt, resulting in the two forming a partnership, both romantically and professionally. A short while later, they head to Paris where they target a successful perfume manufacturer, Madame Colet (Kay Francis) and begin to work for her to get easy access to her money. However, things take a turn for the worse when Colet begins flirting with Monescu, producing a love triangle that threatens to derail the whole plan.
As I write this, it’s the third time I’ve attempted to sit down and write a review of this movie, and only the first time I’ve actually got past the plot summary. The truth is, this film is one of the worst to review because it’s so dull and lifeless. Trouble In Paradise is boring, and no one can convincingly talk at length about a boring film.
Let’s try and start at the beginning. Trouble In Paradise does a very poor job of setting up its premise and central protagonists. It skips around Venice a lot, moving between random gondoliers, genuine nobility at a party, and our actual protagonists. It also does a poor job of setting up their relationship. They seem to spend a lot of time pretending to be polite nobles chatting about the weather and how awfully good the tea is, before realising “oh crap we’re both thieves, let’s get it on!”
This doesn’t help much when we’re suddenly dumped into Colet’s perspective without explanation, and without being informed that time has skipped forward a little bit, leaving the viewer lost and confused. Her flirting and implied sex appeal is also poorly set up, as the “flirting” feels more like generally mundane conversation than something sexy and alluring.
This is the movie’s central problem. Everything is so dry you’d think the movie was set in the Sahara and not in fine European locations. We’re constantly told about Colet’s raw sex appeal that Monescu can’t resist, we’re constantly told about the passionate affair undergone by Monescu and Lily, we’re constantly being told about the tortured emotions going through these characters’ heads; the problem is, we never SEE any of this. What we see is dialogue so stiff and polite everyone may as well be reading the news.
And since these are all things that make up the heart of the movie, the failure to make all this work means that everything else fails too. This is supposed to be some kind of comedy of errors but it simply isn’t funny. Oh, you can tell where the jokes are, but they’re delivered so drily and so devoid of emotion that they never hit you. And that’s the best case scenario. The rest of the time we’re in a tortured mess of contrived scenarios and dialogue that the writer clearly thought was witty but in reality only worked in their head.
Honestly, if I didn’t have to write a review about this movie, I would genuinely have forgotten everything that happened in it. It’s a comedy that fails to be funny and romance that lacks any kind of passion. Even as a crime caper it struggles because of how often it seems to forget that these two are on a heist.
Essentially, the real Trouble In Paradise is that someone never edited this screenplay, that nothing was structured correctly and that the key actors were so unenthusiastic I simply didn’t care. I was not impressed.
Starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis & Herbert Marshall
Written by Aladar Laszlo (play – “The Honest Finder”) and Samson Raphaelson & Grover Jones
Produced by Ernst Lubitsch
Music by W. Franke Harling & Leo Robin
Cinematography by Victor Milner
Favourite Scene: Honestly can’t think of one.
Scene That Bugged Me: The ending was basically a confused mess that cleared nothing up and left me feeling even more disappointed.
Watch it if: You really like stuffy acting
Avoid it if: You like passion in your romantic comedies