Director Ernst Lubitsch regularly referred to this 1932 pre-Code sex comedy Trouble in Paradise as his favorite of all the movies he directed. Lubitsch is regarded as one of the masters of light comedy, especially romantic comedies to the point that eventually a certain type of highly identifiable signature in his film would become known as the “Lubitsch Touch.” Defining exactly what constitutes the “Lubitsch Touch” is about as difficult as defining film noir. For the purposes of brevity, suffice to say that it is a visual realization of sophisticated wit. If that is simply not enough information, may want to discover more about the “Lubitsch Touch”.
As a pre-Code Hollywood comedy—meaning it was made before the restrictive censorship rules imposed by the Hays Code—Trouble in Paradise was free to explore the humor of sexuality and relationships through a plot that had an unmarried man and woman living together; something that would be mandated out of existence for the next few decades thanks to the Hays Code. The film opens with a slight, tangential example of the Lubitsch Touch: the focus on a garbage can being picked up for disposal turns out to be tossed not into a garbage truck, but a gondola as it is revealed that the garbage man picking up the trash has a route taking him through the canals of Venice. That shot also sets the stage for the thematic thrust of much of the films humor: everything is not necessarily what it immediately appears to be.
The metaphor of garbage will be extended throughout the film Lubitsch examines the nature of what really lies beneath the pristine surface of the rich and the beautiful. What will be discovered time and again in Trouble in Paradise is that many things that look pretty on the outside are rotten on the inside. Hence, the nature of how there could ever possibly be any sort of trouble in something as seemingly perfect as paradise. The undermining of the conventional wisdom regarding the romantic nature of Venice and its canals is just the start of the targets that come in for some slicing and dicing with Lubitsch’s vaunted wit. For instance, some of the conventional expectations about the purity of love fall under the influence of his surgical skill at skewering romantic concepts.
The opening deflation of one’s romantic image of Venice in the face of the ugly reality that those canals may also serve as open sewers is reflected in the film’s plot of a thief and a pickpocket passing themselves off as a Baron and Countess as they attempt to fleece a perfume mogul. In Trouble in Paradise, everything might be a con. Or it might real. Or it might even be both. And that’s the rea point of the story. A story that may just remind you a little bit of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel which it partially inspired.