From its opening shot – a Venetian gondolier sings ‘O Sole Mio’ as he glides away on a boat piled with garbage – Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 comedy pierces its high society veneer with dark humour and subtle satire. We meet Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), the dashing gentleman thief whose courtship of the similarly unprincipled Lily (Miriam Hopkins) involves purloining the garter she’s wearing without her ever noticing. Bonded in badness, the pair up sticks to Paris to work a grift on wealthy heiress Madame Colet (Kay Francis). But will Monescu steal her gold, or lose his heart?
There’s a reason Lubitsch is remembered as one of Hollywood’s most sophisticated filmmakers: ‘Trouble in Paradise’ fairly sparkles with wit, insight and intelligence. The performances are perfect, the theatrical simplicity of the direction entrancing, and the script drips with spicy, pre-Code innuendo. It’s all despicably cynical – these immoral leeches may talk big about love, but they always follow the money – which leaves us somewhat detached from the central characters, a mistake Lubitsch would rarely make again. Nonetheless, this is a precision-built comedy with a razor-sharp edge and charm to burn.