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Trouble in Paradise (November 19, 2009)

The series we start tonight is an almost perfect demonstration of a particular studio’s style. The studio is Paramount, though two of the films were made by Lubitsch at MGM, after he left Paramount. The movies were made from 1932 through 1940. They are all romantic comedies. We will alternate between two directors: Ernst Lubitsch and Mitchell Leisen. Lubitsch started as a comedian in Berlin, performed in short films in Germany, then became a director there. He moved to Hollywood in 1922, where he directed and later was head of production at Paramount. Leisen was born in Menominie, Michigan, became an art director on movies in 1920, and started to direct in 1933. The movies we’ll see in this series are (mostly) confections. Neal Gabler, in his history of the men who founded the great studios, An Empire of Their Own, wrote that Paramount’s pictures ”purred with the smooth hum of sophistication” and showed “continental sheen”. So, just to confirm the presence of that continental sheen, out of seven movies we’ll show, four are set in Paris, including tonight’s. The other three take place in New York, New York and Indiana, and Budapest.

Lubitsch, tonight’s director, did say, “I’ve been to Paris, France and to Paris, Paramount. Paris, Paramount is better.” Trouble in Paradise was based on a play by Aladar Laszlo that was produced in Budapest in 1931. The screenplay was written by Samson Raphaelson and adapted by Grover Jones. The picture was produced in the summer of 1932 and was released in October 1932. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play two jewel thieves and con-people, Kay Francis plays the millionairess who is the object of their attention, Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles play two of her suitors, and C. Aubrey Smith and Robert Greig play supporting roles. Herbert Marshall was 42 years old, Kay Francis was 33 years old, and Miriam Hopkins was 29 years old. The film critic Roger Ebert has written “Watching Trouble in Paradise, what I sensed even more was the way the comic material is given dignity by the actors; the characters have a weight of experience behind them that suggests they know life cannot be played indefinitely for laughs.” The movie was named as a film worthy of preservation by the National Film Preservation Board in 1991. Please join me in enjoying 81 minutes of the “Lubitsch touch,” Trouble in Paradise.