Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932) comes to DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection, and its presentation makes the movie seem fresher (and a hell of a lot smarter) than anything coming out of Hollywood almost a century later. The introduction by Peter Bogdanovich is, by itself, almost worth the premium price that Criterion asks -- the man revels in a historical overview of the movie, and is one of the best speakers on the subject in the business (and he also does a great Jack Benny impression here). The audio commentary track by Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman is one of the best this reviewer has heard -- Eyman does wall-to-wall commentary, covering virtually every shot and performing a very difficult juggling act throughout, weaving together criticism, history, and biography, all laced with a good deal of humor, in between the movie's fast-moving, effortlessly unfolding plot and characterizations, without missing a beat. He is clever and unpretentious, and as fleet in his commentary as the director and editor were in their cutting of the movie (which, itself, was extraordinarily nimble, due to the need to avoid dwelling on Herbert Marshall's slow walk, a result of his artificial leg). Eyman's enthusiasm for the movie proves infectious, and anyone not already sold on the joys of Trouble in Paradise would be converted in about three minutes.
The other key part of the supplement is the presentation of Lubitsch's 1917 silent film Ein Fideles Gefängnis (aka The Merry Jail) with a new piano score, starring Emil Jannings. Running just under 48 minutes and getting but a single chapter, the movie is loosely adapted from Johann Strauss' opera "Die Fledermaus"; it displays much of the same light, sophisticated touch that Lubitsch would bring to further refinement in Trouble in Paradise 15 years later. The other major component of the bonus materials is the 1940 Screen Guild Theater radio show in which Lubitsch appeared with Claudette Colbert, Jack Benny, and Basil Rathbone. These are all handy appendices to the film and the commentary, but the latter are so delightful in their own right as to overwhelm the rest. The Lubitsch tribute, a series of written observations on his work and career, has the most meaning when it involves those who knew the man well, such as Billy Wilder.
The 82-minute movie is given 23 chapters, all well chosen and memorably designated, and accessible along with the supplements through a multi-layered menu that is very easy to use. The film-to-video transfer is overall very good, despite some night shots in which the detail -- due to the preservation state of the seven-decade-old movie -- comes a little closer than one would like to being difficult to discern, and there is also a moderate softness of detail throughout. In fairness, this disc is mastered from what is, apparently, the best existing source of the film and it looks about as good as any theatrical showing of the movie that this reviewer has seen. There has also been a lot of restoration work done on the soundtrack to give the audio a sharpness it hasn't had in decades, no small matter in a movie in which sophisticated dialogue and music cues (itself an unusual attribute in a movie made as early in the sound era as 1932) are as essential to its sparkle as its images. There are close-captioned titles available for the hearing-impaired, but otherwise the selection is limited to the English-language audio track.
Trouble in Paradise Ernst Lubitsch used Laszlo Aladar's play The Honest Finder as a springboard for one of his most delightful early-'30s Paramount confections. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play Gaston and Lily, a pair of Parisian thieves, both disguised as nobility, who decide to rob lovely perfume company executive Mariette Colet (Kay Francis); Gaston gets a job as Mariette's confidential secretary, while Lily installs herself as the woman's typist. Love rears its head, forcing Gaston to choose between marriage to Mariette and a fast getaway with Lily. Filled with marvelous throwaway gags and sophisticated innuendo, Trouble in Paradise was described by one critic as "as close to perfection as anything I have ever seen in the movies." ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi