For my “HOT & BOTHERED” blogathon contribution, Ernst Lubitsch is the way to go. Why, this cheeky devil was able to slip all sorts of sexy mischief into Pre-Code films like “Design for Living” ( 1933 ) “The Smiling Lieutenant” ( 1931 ) or “The Merry Widow” ( 1934 ). He does so again.
Jewel thieves Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins are partners-in crime ( are they even married? I s’pose they’re deliciously NOT in the wonderful world of pre-code ) in 1932’-s “Trouble in Paradise.” They are a deee-light to watch (…and trust me, no one is more shocked to hear me say that than me ) as they go after the big Kahuna, the raven-haired Kay Francis. Watching Marshall and Hopkins is like watching a tennis or fencing match; they volley’d and parried. Their oneupsmanship was as precise as a Swiss watch. Lying and stealing were compulsive for them. They couldn’t help themselves. Hopkins has to actually sit on her hands to keep from stealing Francis’ jewels.
When I first got a gander of Miriam Hopkins, I got scared. “Here we go,” I thought. “She’s all affected again.” When Lubitsch reveals her ruse, I laugh and relax and realize she’s handling the comedy very nicely. ( Uh-oh, I guess it’s time for me to break out “Design for Living”, huh? Baby steps, please. ) When she plays her scene with Francis, she’s pitch perfect. She’s now the dowdy secretary with horn-rimmed glasses after we’ve seen her in some stunning and devastating outfits. She has to play it cool, but they both understand each other in that way we women do when we’re competing for the same man. In their case, that man is Herbert Marshall.
Who knew Marshall was spry and nimble ( though I know it wasn’t actually him bounding and sprinting up and down those stairs. ) He had a nimble way with the language of ‘sophisticated comedy’ and spoke it well. Why didn’t somebody tell me? His deadpan delivery and erudite diction works surprisingly well here. I say surprisingly because it’s a surprise to me, never having seen him this way. The last two times I saw Herbert Marshall he was:
( 1. ) in a car going over a cliff in “Angel Face” and
( 2. ) dying on a staircase in “The Little Foxes” with Bette Davis’ words: “I’ll be waiting for you to die,” ringing in his ears. ( This right after she confesses that with all her heart she “still loves the man she killed,” in 1940’s “The Letter.” ) That’s the stiff, staid Herbie Marshall I know.
Well here, in 1932, he’s nimble and sexy and a fast-talking, quick-thinker who talks his way out of any situation. He’s such a smooth talker, he turns the table on his accuser(s) until they are the ones who flee with guilt. He has a wonderful scene volleying with character actor C. Aubrey Smith. Marshall’s character should have been a politician instead of a thief; this way he could legally steal from his constituents…with their blessing!
Kay Francis is no piker in all this. Yes, she’s the “straight man” here; the girl who’s about to be taken. But she’s fallen for the charming Marshall. She puts her complete faith, trust
and business in his hands. He’s a cad, but why don’t I dislike him? She woos him, somewhat vamps him. He thinks he’s out to get her, but she’s two steps ahead of him…and walking towards the boudoir. He’s falling for her. And she’s very smart.
What a handsome woman she is. I was struck by her darkness; black gowns and that jet black hair. She makes me think of sable, or a raven. She’s regal and smoky. She made quite a contrast to Miriam Hopkins’ soft dewy blonde, who is also quite beautiful in this film.
The clothes in this movie are absolutely divine. Breathtaking. I’m not one who pays atten-tion to clothes, but I would have killed for any one outfit of Francis’ or Hopkins’ – especially this black number that Francis wears. I can’t describe it, but I swear, I swooned a little in my seat. And if fashion IS your thing, a good article for you to read about Kay Francis and clothes in GlamAmor’s blog.
Clothes aside, I like that Francis’ character is oblivious to everything other than getting Marshall, but I think underneath she knows the score, and I like how this plays out. Lubitsch packs a lot of plot and moves things along swiftly. I like how he has a montage of servants responding to Francis, and a later montage of those same servants responding to Marshall. Lubitsch keeps the camera on a clock, and we just hear the voices in the scene, as time moves forward. He takes his time to let a character set up a joke so when we hear the punchline later in the movie ( “TONSILS!” ) he trusts us to remember, and laugh. Oh he’s got The Touch alright. (( See the movie…find out what tonsils mean. ))
Last but not least, another find for me are these two: Edward Everett Horton and Charles Ruggles. They were hilarious together, and made perfect foils for each other as they tried to out do each other to win Francis’ hand. Neither stood a snowball’s chance, if tall dark and handsome were on the scene. But it was great fun to watch them try, and to see them annoy and outwit each other.
When the jig is up, the movie ends beautifully, perfectly…justly. The lesson: we are all meant to be with whom we are meant to be with. I learned more than I bargained for from Lubitsch during this movie:
( 1. ) how to tell a story
( 2. ) how to present the story and
( 3. ) how to be a good sport when you lose the thing you
want…that’s not really meant for you. I shall hold Herbert
Marshall and Kay Francis as beacons in that regard. I’d do
well to remember that.
His situation is kind of sort of somewhat similar Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson in “His Girl Friday.” Like her, he too must choose between two ways of life: guaranteed Stability or devil-may-care-Adventure. He’s a jewel thief going after big game: Kay Francis. He becomes enamored of her, flirts with the idea of being in love with her, falls into her lifestyle of the rich. But he’s also in a relationship with fellow traveler, Miriam Hopkins. ( They ‘meet cute’ in a thiefly sort of way. ) Push comes to shove for him and he has to choose between the stability and wealth of Francis’ world or the exhilaration of the game with Hopkins. And don’t we all have to make a choice sometimes.
“Trouble in Paradise” is my saucy bit of pre-code fluff to contribute to the blogathon I’m co-hosting with Aurora, author of the Once Upon A Screen blog. If you want to continue to be…hot and bothered ~ ( and who doesn’t ) ~ all you have to do is click on the banner below to see our roster of entries of like~minded, pre~code lovin’ fans. Enjoy!
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