Wordplay is heavenly in 1934 `Paradise'

FILM

Film Column

September 27, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The interlocking love stories in director Ernst Lubitsch's 1934 Trouble in Paradise, the latest entry in the Charles Theatre's Saturday revival series, soar on gossamer wings, thanks to the dashing, delicate wordplay of screenwriter Samson Raphaelson.

In the film's first dialogue scene, Herbert Marshall asks a hotel waiter, "If Casanova suddenly ... turned out to be Romeo ... having supper with Juliet - who might become Cleopatra ... how would you start?" In what Raphaelson's script characterizes as "a professional and prosaic tone," the waiter replies, "I would start with cocktails."

Marshall, playing a polished con artist, is about to fall in love with an impudent, exuberant thiefette, played by Miriam Hopkins; together they conjure an affair that's a nonstop improvisation. But when the two team up to fleece beautiful perfume heiress Kay Francis of her fortune, yes, there's trouble in paradise.

Elegantly irresistible, Francis knows her way around an innuendo: At one point she asks Marshall, "When a lady takes her jewels off in a gentleman's room, where does she put them?" The sentence is charged with sexual expectancy (the couple flirt madly yet never make love) and suspicion (she's just been tipped off that he's a thief). Francis and Marshall share an erotic fantasy that is more slow-growing than his relationship with Hopkins, yet also more sweeping, and more grand. And Marshall can possess her only if he settles into her cushy life.

The comic-erotic tug of war in this high-style romantic farce is one of Lubitsch and Raphaelson's peak accomplishments (they also gave us The Shop Around the Corner in 1940 and Heaven Can Wait in 1943). These moviemakers contrast instant gratification and the pleasure of the delayed payoff without demeaning either - love of any kind is seen as a funny sort of miracle.

The fun starts at noon tomorrow. Admission is $5.

For more information, go to www.thecharles.com.

Always on

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation says 30 million viewers have seen the 36-minute film The Story of a Patriot at its Patriot Theaters. This portrait of revolutionary America, directed by George Seaton and starring Jack Lord as a Virginia planter, has played every day for 11,134 days - since 1957 - giving it claim to being "the world's longest running motion picture."

Robert A. Harris of Lawrence of Arabia fame is now restoring the picture to its wide-format VistaVision and six-channel stereo glory. For more information, go to www.colonialwilliamsburg.com.

Sundays `Kiss'

Cinema Sundays at the Charles this weekend features The Last Kiss, an Italian comedy about male commitment-phobia comparable to the work of Federico Fellini - as well as Barry Levinson. Co-winner of the World Cinema Audience Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, the movie unspools at 10:35 a.m. Sunday, with discussion to follow. Doors open for bagels and coffee at 9:45 a.m. For more information, go to www.thecharles.com.

Rotunda news

With the reopening of the Rotunda Cinemas tentatively slated for later this fall, the prime mover of the renovation, Senator owner Tom Kiefaber, weighed in with The Sun on the benefits for movie-lovers.

Re-christened the "Rotunda Cinematheque," the theaters will build, he hopes, on the "slate of art/specialty hits that served the former Rotunda Cinemas so well in its heyday." They will provide "expanded opportunities to feature engagements of the best of the Hollywood films" as well as "classic reissues" such as Metropolis and Lawrence of Arabia, which have played the Senator over the past two weeks.

Distinguishing the Rotunda Cinematheque from what Kiefaber calls "chain-operated `cinema-one-too many' macro-plexes" will be the use of digital video projection to allow "local independent filmmakers and film students ... to have their films professionally exhibited to the public at much lower cost than has ever been available to them."

With a combination of eclecticism and outreach, Kiefaber plans to "appeal to the greater community surrounding the Rotunda as well as draw patrons, as the Senator does, from the wider demographic in the Baltimore region." This strategy, he says, will "dovetail nicely with the ongoing revitalization program that the owners of the Rotunda Center have under way at this time."

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