Trouble in Paradise is about honesty amongst thieves and lovers… or more appropriately the general lack of honesty among thieves and lovers. The film begins as two people meet in an Italian hotel; she is a naive countess, he an aristocratic romantic, and they both are con artists. It doesn’t take long for either of them to catch on to the other’s trick, and in feigned indignation accuse the other of being a thief, of course, moments later they are in each other’s arms. Although destined to be together, the nature of their meeting and lifestyle also means they are destined to mistrust the other. However, in a Lubitsch film no one is truly innocent, lovers always lie, but in the end, love usually prevails. Partners in life and in work, they go to Paris where they come under hire of the beautiful Mme. Colet, the owner of a perfume company. Gaston tries to seduce her as a means of gaining her trust, and finally her money but also serves to inspire great jealousy Lily.
Lubitsch defies the obstacles of early sound through his use of music and visual touches. As most of his early films were musicals, he had a special understanding of sound that many of his contemporaries were not privileged too. His film never feels restricted by space or movement, as many films of the time do. His sense of visuals lend to this overall feeling, as he employs montage and what I can only call “bridging”, something like a repeated motif or image that tie together scenes and characters, while also serving as jokes in themselves. The most obvious being the use of the staircase in Mme. Colet’s mansion. The butler uses them throughout the picture, and as the film reaches it’s climax with more and more frequency until the scene is reduced to him just running up and down before finally being caught in the middle, confused and with nowhere to go. This also mirrors Gaston’s dilemma as he is caught between two women, really unsure which he is in love with (or more in love with). It’s really a nice subtle touch that’s easy to overlook.
The film’s humour is sophisticated and quick and really work to serve the character and narrative. The actors are all first class, Miriam Hopkins especially who may be one of the more underappreciated actresses of the Golden Hollywood era. The film falls just short of being a screwball, as do most of Lubitsch’s films, mostly because of it’s pace. Unlike the overheated and overcharged atmosphere and speed of a film like His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby, his films always take their time. Lines are delivered with ease and calmness, resulting in a wonderful sensuality that I think is often called “sophistication”. It seems if you slow down a love scene or sexual banter it goes from “hot” to “sophisticated”, but semantics aside it’s wonderful.