Of all the genres of movies, the hardest to make just might be the sophisticated comedy. Much easier to make the in-you-face “Hangover” movies, or “Something About Mary.” They are funny for sure, and pretty high on the crass level as well. “Bridesmaids” was hysterical, but its humor was not particularly of the high-minded or light-of-touch variety.
Judd Apatow, probably the king of American film comedy these days, has been quoted as saying that his favorite movie is Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.” That sounds about right. And “Young Frankenstein" is a very funny movie. It’s a terrific spoof of horror films, and, if you’re in the right mood, will have your sides hurting as you cannot stop laughing at its puerile inventiveness.
Brooks makes comedies that are excessive because he’s clearly touched with lunacy and as audiences, we’re forever grateful.
But I want to direct your attention to a man who was known for making great comedies not because he was touched, but because he had a touch. He seemed to have some sort of magic wand, and once he waved it over his production team, they would all be anointed with a cleverness, a worldly-wise thoroughly adult manner that was both funny and irresistibly pleasing.
It’s the opposite of vulgarity, but, like pornography, it’s something that’s instantly recognizable.
I am speaking of a movie-maker who died 67 years ago. His name is Ernst Lubitsch and there’s a wonderful opportunity to see one of his best movies this weekend.
TCM is showing Lubitsch’s not often seen “Trouble in Paradise” at 3:30 in the afternoon on Friday, Dec. 30 for those of you who live in the Eastern time zone (12:30 Pacific Time). If you can’t watch it live I would urge you to record it for later viewing. It’s a delightful choice to watch on New Year’s Eve, cuddled up next to your significant other.
“Trouble in Paradise” was made in 1932, which wasn’t that long after sound movies took hold in Hollywood. It stars Herbert Marshall as a thief and Miriam Hopkins as a pickpocket. The third leg of the romantic triangle is Kay Francis, who plays the owner of a perfume company.
Here are some comments by movie critics about “Trouble in Paradise”:
David Kehr: "The bon mots fly and an elegant immorality abounds, while beneath the surface the most serious kinds of emotional transactions are being made."
Andrew Sarris: "This movie seemed to have everything: the grace and elegance of the twenties, the egalitarian conscience of the thirties, the visual wit of the silent cinema, and the verbal wit of the talkies."
A longtime commentator on American culture, the late Alistair Cooke, once said, "I have played ‘Trouble in Paradise’ to three different generations over the past forty years or so, to the delight of all of them.".
One cannot write about Lubitsch without a few words about his most important collaborator, screenwriter Samson Raphaelson. Here’s this from an essay about the movie from the DVD release put out by The Criterion Collection. Says pop culture critic Armond White: “ ‘Trouble in Paradise’ never turns mushy—and never slows down—due to Lubitsch and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson’s cosmopolitan insight about the capriciousness and fluidity of romantic attraction. It is among the most astute movies ever made about the joys of sex even though it is, primarily, a sparkling abstraction. Each character’s cultured civility only covers up criminal, sexual, human instinct. Within their tuxedos and stain gowns, they reveal animal appetites, recognizable weakness and enviable wit.”
As you watch this movie, know that Lubitsch and Raphaelson collaborated on another movie, 13 years later, that is also a true must-see comedy gem—perhaps the best comedy about relationships ever made: “The Shop Around the Corner” starring Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and a marvelous cast of supporting players.
“I feel sorry for people who have never seen an Ernst Lubitsch movie; they are missing such delights,” filmmaker and critic Peter Bogdanovich wrote on his website earlier this year. “There is no way to really describe what exactly it is that makes most of his pictures so charming, funny, human, stylized, unique.“
Bogdanovich then added a comment with which I wholeheartedly concur: “If more people were enjoying Lubitsch movies, they would be happier, more hopeful.”#
NOTE: If you do not subscribe to TCM, hope is not all lost. If you DO subscribe to Netflix’s streaming movie service you can order up, instantly, Lubitsch and Raphaelson’s “Heaven Can Wait.” This 1943 enchantment has nothing to do with Warren Beatty’s 1978 “Heaven Can Wait" (which itself is a remake, but not of the Lubitsch film).