Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Trouble in Paradise

The ingeniously designed sets of Trouble in Paradise (dir. Ernst Lubitsch) are an important feature for a film that is (like most 1932 films) set-bound.  One can imagine its working well as a stage play, using the same sets.  (The film is loosely based on a play).  The most important set is an apartment building which we see both from the inside and outside.  In a key scene, and a key plot point, one character looks out an apartment window into another apartment at a woman staring back at him.  The film is about a couple of thieves and con-artists, Lily (Miriam Hopkins) and Monescu (Herbert Marshall), who team up to steal money from a wealthy woman, Colet (Kay Francis).  The thieves become romantically entangled, but at the same time Monescu becomes attracted to the woman whose money they plan to steal.  The tone of the film is light comedy.  Much of the film’s interest comes from rapid-fire dialogue and two suitors of Colet—one played by Edward Everett Horton, who is very good.  This pre-Code film is full of subtle and not-so-subtle sexual references.  It implies, for instance, that Lily and Monescu are sexually involved, and that Monescu and Colet have sex as well—by modern standards, these implications are tame but clear.  After the Code was in force, such references would not occur.  Here’s a film where my own inability to engage with the characters and the plot becomes an impediment.  All the characters are wealthy, they’re trying to deceive and cheat one another out of their money or their love, and when it’s all over, when Lily and Montescu sit in the taxi making jokes about the bracelet Montescu stole from Colet and that Lily in turn stole from him, what does it all matter?  I’d like to squash them all with my thumb. There are significant holes in the plot, the most important one being why Colet allows the two thieves who have deceived her and stolen her money (one of whom slept with her) to escape.  

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