Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall
Produced by Paramount Pictures
One of the many charms of watching certain films is their ability to make you root for the bad guy. The multiplexes are littered with drug lords, mob bosses, morally dubious cops and sadistic hitmen that we want to see "get away with it."
Trouble in Paradise is one of those films. We follow the exploits of Gaston Monescu, a notorious thief who meets his equal in Lily. The beautiful con artist manages to momentarily relieve Monescu of his latest haul, arousing his curiosity. The two become romantically involved and conspire to rob Madame Mariette Cole, a rich perfume company mogul.
Monescu ingratiates himself with Colet, becoming the socialite's secretary. He manages her finances and affairs, all with an eye toward emptying her safe when the time is right.
Complicating the heist is Monescu's growing affection for Colet. Lily begins to doubt her partner and insists on pushing up the schedule. Colet's longtime money manager also begins to doubt Monescu's intentions. And a former mark of Monescu's arrives in Paris and vaguely recognizes the thief.
The real achievement of Trouble in Paradise is the way it keeps the audience guessing. Though we are always virtually with Monescu, we never really know what he is thinking. Does he love Colet? Is it all part of a con? Just when you think you have it figured out another fly lands in the ointment.
Not knowing what Monescu wants does not keep us from rooting for him. A lot of the credit goes to Herbert Marshall. His Monescu is suave and debonair, a perfect gentleman devoted to a life of crime. Monescu wields words as though they were a sword, slicing his way through every obstacle the script throws his way.
Kay Francis' Colet is a worthy object of desire for the thief. She is beautiful and business savvy, navigating Parisian social circles with the grace of a dancer. Her only foible is a naivete brought on by her way of life. She cannot even fathom that she's invited a wolf into the hen house.
Miriam Hopkins's Lily is sadly the weak link in the trio. Hopkins is not given much to work with and turns in a shrill performance that cannot help but make you root against her.
The story simply would not work without the right tone and Lubitsch manages the temperature here perfectly. Trouble in Paradise has enough weight to give the plot real stakes, but it always keeps the action light and comedic. The wrong approach would make the audience not care about Monescu or worse, hate him. Happily, we are cheering on the criminal throughout.
Trouble in Paradise will not change the way you look at the world. It's very simply a fun story well told by a master director. To see this one is to watch a film of breezy perfection.
****1/2 out of *****