Rom-com is an ugly word. It groaningly prods memories of insipid ‘will they won’t they’ scenarios resolving unsurprisingly. It is not that this premise can not work, it becomes formula because it works far too well, but without disguising this format, the mantra ‘opposites attract’ is laid blatantly on show and leaves little interest in the inevitable ‘running after her’ sequence. But good news readers, romance is not dead.
Trouble In Paradise is the story of two lovers with two loves, the first for each other, the second for crime. Together they are a formidable con artist duo ensnaring the elite in stings, but master thief Gaston Monescue’s (Herbert Marshall) new target Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis) rumbles their illicit bliss.
Trouble In Paradise is a relief from countless romantic endeavours because it eschews the basic fault of placing romance at the forefront. Gaston wields charm to manipulate, Lily’s (Miriam Hopkins) ardour is like a crazed fans’, and Colet’s passion sizzles pure lust. But these are byproducts of the situation at hand: steal the money. This decision side steps the dull search for love of endless plots which produces flat characters and flatter plots.
Trouble In Paradise has neither. Lily and Gaston are an archaic and infinitely more elegant Bonnie and Clyde, or Clarence and Alabama. Lily initially holds herself in reserve in a very funny tete a tete with Gaston before unveiling her live wire real self and falling madly in love with the master con artist. Gaston counterbalances as the ultimate gentleman thief, elegantly gliding from scene to scene with an upright posture, slicked back hair, and head held high to look down on women lovingly, and men condescendingly, whether they know it or not.
Despite their nefarious methods of surviving in the world, the only word to describe the pair is elegance, and behind the camera Lubitsch wraps them in a cosy drawing room comedy of foppery, lit by romantic candle light. Trouble In Paradise often flirts with screwball comedy antics but Lubitsch is so enamoured by long time collaborator Samson Ralpheson’s screenplay that each scene is elongated that we might absorb each elegant touch.
This touch is ‘The Lubitsch Touch’ as dubbed by a critic to express the inexpressible enchantment of the director’s work. This term was never defined, though Lubitsch himself comes closest to explanation through his expression of great cinema – ‘Any good movie is filled with secrets. If a director doesn’t leave anything unsaid, it’s a lousy picture. If a picture’s unsaid, it’s a lousy picture. If a picture is good, it’s mysterious, with things unsaid’.
The fun of Trouble In Paradise lies in split second readings, and misreadings, of situations which enabled Lubitsch to get away with surprising frankness, innuendo and adult characters. In moments of one on one flirtations, Lubitsch turns the sizzling heat as close to overt as possible without bubbling over. Sadly, this picture danced on the precipice of the Hays code and found it slipped into a dark vault until 1968.
To stand back and realise only half a decade passed from the experimental The Jazz Singer to the harmonisation of dialogue and image Trouble In Paradise boasts of is something of a marvel. Lubitsch entwines each facet of storytelling so closely and with such efficient reserve that the picture maximises audience participation and emotional punch. A simple ‘Goodbye’ in a Lubitsch picture can cause heartache.
Lubitsch was an artist of experience and adaptability, he quickly established a reputation in his home of Berlin and caught the attention of Hollywood with Pola Negri as his star. He arrived in tinsel town in 1923 towards the renaissance of the silent era, but he did not lament the advent of sound. Rather, he celebrated with a string of lavish musicals in his Paramount reign. Trouble in Paradise is a collection of Lubitsch’s talents at his height, a musical of dialogue, a romance of image and a treasure of the romantic comedy genre with such wit and enjoyment that it steals our heats, but importantly not our time.
A close up of a clock, each fade brings the clock hands forward and the plot thickens between off screen discussions. A beautiful sequence which allows the minimal extravagance to further the story but retain suggestiveness thanks to the lightest of touches.