Labor - And A Whole Lot More

A Comic Masterpiece
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Film director Ernst Lubitsch's "Trouble in Paradise" is without doubt one of the greatest of all romantic comedies and, in fact, one of the greatest films of any genre, right up there with "Citizen Kane" and the like.

Yet until just recently, the 1932 masterpiece has been very hard to find, almost never shown in theaters or on television and not available for home viewing. But now a video and DVD have finally made it available to the widespread audience it most certainly deserves. Buy or rent the DVD or video. Now. Don't hesitate for a second. (But don't confuse it with the dreadful made-for-TV movie of the same name starring Raquel Welch.)

I'm lucky. I've been able to see "Trouble in Paradise" on the big screen, twice over the past five years at San Francisco's outstanding repertory theaters, the Balboa and Castro.

It's a visually beautiful movie, with lushly filmed art deco interiors, and beautiful people dressed beautifully. Never has there been a more suave or more gallant leading man than Herbert Marshall, the very epitome of suave and gallant, and never one more impeccably tailored. Never have there been actresses more beautiful or more beautifully dressed than leading ladies Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis. Their acting, as that of Marshall, is superb - seemingly effortless, but involving highly skilled comic timing and precisely executed smart, snappy dialogue. The same can be said for the two others in leading roles, Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton, that grand master of the comic doubletake.

Marshall and Hopkins play a pair of elegant international thieves, con artists and all-around charming rogues. Francis, a wealthy heiress, is the not unwilling target of their latest ingenious scheme. It would be criminal of me to give away any of the twisting, turning and surprising plot, but be assured there's hardly a dull or predictable moment.

The film, one of the so-called pre-code movies made prior to Hollywood imposing a Victorian code of self-censorship in the mid-thirties, has all the elements you could want in a movie. Sex, romance, mystery, comedy, crime without punishment -- the stuff of real life, that is. All that plus artistry.

"Trouble in Paradise" is, above all, sophisticated - and far more than many, if not most, contemporary films, That's particularly evident in its treatment of sex. It is far sexier than any of today's movies filled with explicit sex and endless spewing of the "F" word. The sex is suggested, and very strongly, but only suggested, so that you can imagine for yourself what's about to happen - or has happened - between Marshall and Hopkins or Francis. It allows you to think for yourself, to engage your mind rather than simply watch passively as two bodies grapple in simulated sex. The film is full of the witty sexual innuendo that's missing from most of today's films, given their lack of subtlety in matters of sex - or just about anything else. The sophisticated subtlety is enhanced by the film being in black and white, and thus full of shadows and visual mystery.

There probably are some better films -- but not much better.

Copyright (c) Dick Meister