`Trouble in Paradise' at Charles

Film: Rare chance to see Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 subtle bedroom farce.

March 24, 2000|By Ann Hornaday and Chris Kaltenbach | Ann Hornaday and Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

When director Ernst Lubitsch died in 1947, legend has it that as they were walking away from the funeral, Billy Wilder turned to William Wyler and sighed, "Well, no more Lubitsch."

"Worse than that," Wyler countered. "No more Lubitsch movies."

For roughly 25 years, the German-born Lubitsch directed some of the best films Hollywood had to offer, including such delectable classics as "To Be Or Not To Be," "Ninotchka," "The Shop Around the Corner" (on which the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle, "You've Got Mail," was based) and "Heaven Can Wait" (later remade by Warren Beatty).

All are emblematic of the days when what went unsaid in films was often more important than what was said, when directors had to rely on repartee and innuendo to get across ideas they couldn't put on screen. The results were sophisticated comedies as hilarious as they are understated.

But no film better exemplifies the famed "Lubitsch touch" than 1932's "Trouble In Paradise," a rarely seen bedroom farce -- it's extremely hard to find on video and almost never turns up on TV -- centering on two European jewel thieves who, when not lustfully picking each other's pockets, plot to rob a rich widow of her money.

Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins are Gaston Monescu and Lily Vautier; together, they work their way into the good graces of Mariette Colet (the slinky Kay Francis), obtaining jobs as her secretary and her maid. All goes as planned, and the money seems as good as theirs, until two wrenches get tossed into the works: Monescu begins to fall for Colet, and one of her other suitors recognizes him as the infamous jewel thief he is.

"Trouble in Paradise" has a wonderful time misdirecting its audience; its opening moments feature an operatic aria sung by what turns out to be a Venetian garbage collector. The film is awash with things that aren't what they appear to be, and that holds true of its characters as well. In one memorable scene, Gaston and Lily play a game of pickpocket one-upmanship that's as much foreplay as it is braggadocio.

The print on display at the Charles is gorgeous, with few of the snaps, crackles or pops that plague most unrestored films of the period. The film is seen so rarely, says Los Angeles film archivist Peter Langs, because studios are reluctant to part with the few prints they have, out of fear they'll fall victim to inferior projection equipment or mishandling by careless projectionists. Which means you owe it to yourself to take advantage of this rare opportunity to enjoy the sort of film they really don't make anymore. At least not since Ernst Lubitsch died.

-- Chris Kaltenbach

Film festivals upon us

Baltimore's film festival season is just around the corner: April 1, the Jewish Community Center and Senator Theatre will kick off the 12th annual Baltimore Jewish Film Festival with a screening of "Soleil," Roger Hanin's autobiographical film about a Jewish family living in Algeria during World War II. The movie stars Sophia Loren and Phillipe Noiret.

Also on offer throughout the festival, which ends April 30, will be "After the Truth," a fictional account of the trial of Dr. Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death" who masterminded the Nazi death camps; "Kadosh," Amos Gitai's tale of two sisters living in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli community of Mea Shearim; "Inside Out," about a Jewish comic coming to terms with the new South Africa, and "The Children of Chabannes," a documentary by Lisa Gossels and Dean Wetherell about a group of French citizens who saved 400 Jewish children during the war. For a complete schedule and information about tickets, call Claudine Davison at 410-542-4900, Ext. 239.

The Johns Hopkins Film Festival is gearing up for a strong year. Among the movies being presented will be "The Target Shoots First," Chris Wilchus' hilarious documentary about his forays into corporate America, which recently took honors at the Slamdance and South by Southwest film festivals. Hopkins will also screen "Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes," Cass Paley's 1998 award-winning documentary about 1970s porn star John Holmes.

The Johns Hopkins Film Festival begins on April 13 and winds up April 16. For schedule and ticket information, call 410-516-7517 or visit the www.jhu.edu/(tilde)jhufilm/fest/about.html.

And of course, the Maryland Film Festival is finalizing the schedule for its second edition, which will unspool April 27 through April 30. The festival is scheduled to announce at least part of its lineup March 29. Stay tuned.

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