Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)

Saw the Critierion disc of Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise again tonight and it sparkles on the umpteenth viewing, like the moon in that wonderful champagne. Peter Bogdanovich talks about the beginning--which Lubitsch and Raphaelson spent three days trying to think up--saying it's a twist on the Venice of the Grand Canal and its gondolas. Here the gondola is a trash barge and it's easy to say that's a way of pulling the perfumed atmosphere of Venice down a notch or two (something the Hays Office was actually worried about), but I see it differently--I think it's the garbage that's being uplifted. Garbage on a gondola, drifting down the canals of Venice--what better treatment of unpromising material can you get?

Characters like Kay Francis' rich widow or Charles Ruggles (who looks like Harvey Keitel with a moustache and a deadpan sense of humor) and Edward Horton's emasculated suitors, or Aubrey Smith's faithful chairman are revealed to have clay feet, the same time outsiders like Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall's thieves are shown to have their share of hidden gold; that's what I think that garbage gondola--and this film--is really about.

I can't help but suspect Larry McMurtry somehow saw this film and was inspired to create the character of Aurora Greenaway and her several lovers, one of which is a dead ringer for Ruggles' military man; if so he's forgiven for copying such a memorable character--even if, much as I like Aurora in McMurtry's novel, she doesn't compare to Francis' sexy, scintillating original.

As for the film itself--what else is there to say, except to mention a few in an endless list of inimitable moments? Hopkins and Marshall reclining on a sofa, fading away as if into a higher plane of existence (or ecstacy); Kay Francis swinging both legs over her head, looking straight at us (at Marshall) with a provocative smile on her face, and asking if we approve (I sure as hell do); Francis later taking her pearls off (as intimate a gesture as if it were her underwear) and saying "but I don't want to be a lady." The way she fingers those pearls while saying this causes a tingling sensation in a corresponding (if considerably larger) part of the male anatomy. Everyone talks of Lubitsch's 'light' touch; personally, I think this is powerful, heady stuff, not to be seen with a beautiful woman unless you're both ready to follow through on what happens next.

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