In Trouble in Paradise Herbert Marshall entertains and impresses as the impossibly suave gentleman thief, Gaston Monescu, a man who can act, bluff and charm his way into and out of almost any situation. He is aided and abetted by his lady friend Lily (Miriam Hopkins), also an accomplished confidence trickster and acquirer-of-valuables. Their target: the wealthy owner of a perfume company, Mariette Colet (Kay Francis). What they don’t count on is just how triangular a relationship can be when two become three… and Mme Colet has everything a thief and a man could want (money; astounding beauty, wit & charm).
While Francis is magnetic as Colet, it’s really Marshall who steals the show. The word “sublime” comes to mind as the perfect description of the man’s expressions, movements and language as he deftly moves about in an upper class so beneath his level of refinement that they seem ill-at-ease in his presence. Of course, the web of deceit is inevitably a hazard for those who weave it, and while entrapment may put coin and liberty at risk, love may be lost no matter the outcome.
Trouble in Paradise is often regarded as director Ernst Lubitsch’s finest film. While I much preferred To Be or Not to Be, I found Trouble thoroughly entertaining, with a great script and the actors to do it justice. Considering its age it must have had some influence on not-dissimilar films that followed, like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and the film it remade (Bedtime Story). Nothing involving Steve Martin could hope to share any DNA with this film when it comes to sophistication, however! At just over eighty minutes it certainly doesn’t outlast its welcome, which is refreshing considering just how flabby and self-indulgent many popular films have been becoming of late (Lord of the Rings, anything by Christopher Nolan…). I wonder what Gaston Monescu would have thought of Inception?!?
One thing I missed while watching was that Herbert Marshall had a wooden leg (he lost one in the first world war). It certainly didn’t have any impact on the elegance he brought to Monescu’s movements.