Understanding the ‘Lubitsch Touch’

Does it Increase Our Appreciation of Trouble in Paradise?

by Richard Wallace Volume 12, Issue 3 / March 2008 25 minutes (6078 words)

The screen is black. Slowly the instantly recognisable image of the Paramount logo appears, accompanied by the introductory bars of the song Trouble in Paradise. As the unspecified singer states that “Most any place can seem to be a paradise” the logo is replaced by the words ‘Trouble in.’ Presently these words are accompanied by the image of a double bed which is almost obscured a couple of seconds later when the word ‘Paradise’ appears, completing the film’s title. Even in the opening credits of Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932) Ernst Lubitsch’s presence is clearly apparent. By combining the singer’s voice telling the audience that anywhere can be a paradise “whilst you embrace just the one that you adore” with the statement ‘trouble in bed,’ created by a combination of the words and image, Lubitsch manages within the opening seconds of the film to set up a dilemma: how can one have trouble in bed if it is a paradise?

This question is answered as the credits continue. Superimposed over the image of the bed appear the names of the leading cast members, Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall, the women’s names joined by a dotted line and appearing above the male lead, forming a triangle on top of the bed. The reason there is trouble in bed then is not because whoever is having the trouble is with “just the one” that he adores but with ‘the ones.’ These opening images demonstrate perfectly what has come to be known as the ‘Lubitsch Touch.’ The presentation of the sound and the images are clearly arranged in order to divulge information, but are done so in such a way that the information is not explicit. At face value they just impart the title of the film and the leading players, however by choosing to introduce the elements in the order and way that he does, emphasising the connection between a bed and paradise, when the spoken word “Paradise” introduces, and the written word ‘Paradise’ replaces the image of the bed, Lubitsch is clearly signalling intent, an intent that is apparent not just throughout this film but throughout his career.

Ernest Lindgren suggests that a film is art when it “…has the attributes of a language which can be used…by a single individual, the creative artist…to express his own personal experiences…as a filmic idea, so that something is communicated to us…which could not be communicated in any other way, so that we can say of it…‘that the thing said cannot be distinguished from the way of saying it’” (Lindgren 194). In order to appreciate Trouble in Paradise as a work of art by these criteria the film has to be seen as the work of one artist and must also be shown to be a manifestation of that individual in filmic form. This definition of art is flawed, and films by their very essence are problematic because “they must appeal to a large audience in order to meet their expenses” and,

…the enormous personnel of assistant directors, cameramen, lighting men, actors and producers, represent a…collective monster who, standing between the artist and the realization of his vision, is bound to mangle any delicate or sensitive impulse. (Deren 254)

I aim to demonstrate that the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ overcomes these problems and reveals Lubitsch to be a unique artist in control of all aspects of his craft; as a result Trouble in Paradise can be seen and appreciated as a true work of art.

The term (Lubitsch Touch) first became associated with the director during his early years in America when he was producing “small-scale, small-cast efforts that dealt with intimate relationships between married couples, lovers, or immediate members of a family” (Carringer and Sabath 7) for Warner Brothers. Lubitsch had become one of the highest regarded directors in Hollywood and one of the few directors recognisable to the general public; his name being as much a film’s selling point as its stars. It is arguable that the reason for this was not just the result of the success of his movies –all of them critically acclaimed, but not all of them commercial successes– but because of their uniqueness and his importance not just in Hollywood but also to European cinema. Lubitsch’s career began in Germany and his 1919 film Madame Dubarry (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919) became the “first important foreign film shown in the U.S,” and is now seen as “the film which not only established the German film industry as a world contender…but…consolidated the reputation of Lubitsch as the foremost European director of the period” (Weinberg 327). The film opened the flood gates for European films to be exhibited in America with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920) cementing the European cinema’s reputation. Lubitsch also became one of the first directors to leave Europe for Hollywood when he accepted Mary Pickford’s offer to make Rosita (Ernst Lubitsch, 1923), a film Pickford found unsatisfying because what emerged “was not a Pickford film, but a Lubitsch film” (Weinberg 52). The result of this was that most of Lubitsch’s American films had a decidedly European style, different from everything else at the time.

Lubitsch’s easy transition was partly as a result of his contract at Warner Brothers which gave him an unprecedented amount of freedom, “such as having his own continuing production staff, selecting his own story properties, working closely with writers of his choice, and shooting and cutting his films in relative freedom” (Carringer and Sabath 6-7). This gave Lubitsch total control over his productions as well as enabling him to bring European subject matter to American screens, “an audience by and large still prudish about sex” (Kaplan 306), and “make…[them]…laugh at something they took so seriously” (Weinberg 62). More important than this was his skill as a visual filmmaker, something Leo Braudy makes clear when he states that “Lubitsch’s easy transition from Germany to Hollywood casts him as the archetypal director of the silent period, whose art, because it is not tied down to a specific national language, is…beyond nation, national cultures, and national politics entirely –a truly international artist” (Braudy 1072). It is this internationalism that can be seen to provide the origins of the ‘Lubitsch Touch.’

Pinning down a precise definition of the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ is extremely problematic as no two critics agree on what the term actually represents. William Paul defines it as “the conjunction of lightness and seriousness, of gaiety and gravity that distinguishes Lubitsch’s greatest films” (Paul 8). Sabine Hake states that Lubitsch’s films “undermine the basic rules of the classical narrative cinema by dissolving the distinctions between form and content” (Hake 3). Herman Weinberg categorises the statement by saying that it “meant going from the general to the particular, suddenly condensing into one swift, deft moment the crystallization of a scene or even the entire theme” (Weinberg 25). All of these definitions capture as essence of Lubitsch’s style, however Ray Durgnat and Leland A. Poague come closest to encapsulating the term. The former writes:

The famous ‘Lubitsch touch’ is…not so much a something added to a story as a method of telling a story through ellipse and emphasis. Omitting the obvious presentation, Lubitsch substitutes allusive detail, and then emphasizes that detail…in such a way that the sweet nothing becomes an ornamental equivalent of the dramatic sense. (Durgnat 110)

Leland A. Poague states that:

Ernst Lubitsch is generally remembered for his cinematic wit, for his gracefully charming and fluid style, for his ingenious ability to suggest more than he showed and to show more than others dared suggest; for all of those qualities and characteristics known collectively as “The Lubitsch Touch.” (Poague 13)

A combination of these definitions might exclude certain aspects of Lubitsch’s style, however they are useful as a starting point from which to analyze Trouble in Paradise as a product of the ‘Lubitsch touch,’ as it is a film that offers the greatest example of individual ‘touches’ as well as demonstrating how a Lubitsch film as a whole can be seen as one complete ‘touch.’ Although it can be argued that the film can be viewed as a masterpiece without any knowledge of the director or his style, I aim to demonstrate that the features that make it great are those that embody the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ at its finest, and as a result a knowledge of the term can only help to strengthen our appreciation of the film. Alexander Bakshy in a contemporary review of Trouble in Paradise described the story as “a trivial anecdote” (Bakshy 274) and on the surface of it the tale of two thieves plotting a robbery is not particularly original. However on closer inspection it is apparent that Lubitsch is adapting a familiar narrative in several significant ways and the two major themes of the film, sex and money, are dealt with in a manner that would have been extremely uncommon in 1932.

Money is an important issue in the film, and the Depression emerges as a significant backdrop, something Richard Kaszarski demonstrates, stating that “unlike some of Lubitsch’s other…comedies the setting of Trouble in Paradise is not a ruritarian principality but a very real contemporary world, anchored firmly in the disillusioning realities of 1932” (Kaszarski 47). Lubitsch uses this as a source of comedy enabling him to mock both the poor and the rich whilst also making a social comment. The central character of Mariette Colet (Kay Francis) is introduced through a series of sequences, each one presenting a single perspective on capitalism, and each one undermined by the next. When Mariette is first introduced she appears sympathetic towards the financial situation of the poor. When her advisors suggest she lower the salaries of her perfume factory workers she replies, “Business bores me to distraction…I think we’d better leave the salaries just where they are.” This appears to be a ruse to enable Mariette to continue to provide for the poorer workers, however this is undermined in the following scene when she is shown refusing to buy a 3,000 francs handbag because it is too expensive, before eventually buying one for 125,000 francs because “it’s beautiful.” Clearly she has no consideration for money, a point reinforced when her bag is stolen. As a procession of unkempt people attempt to earn the reward money by presenting Mariette with tattered bits of material, a Bolshevik bursts in and criticises her attitude to money, exclaiming, “Any woman who spends a fortune in times like these for a handbag…phooey!” However this moralistic standpoint is also undermined as the inarticulate nature of the Russian’s manner presents him as a fool, so the serious point he is making is reduced to banality. More significantly this moralistic standpoint is swept away when Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), the thief who stole the bag, enters, returns the item and earns the reward money. Lubitsch’s representation of money and wealth is skewed; when we are presented with a moralistic view it is undermined in favour of the thief. This irony is central to the film as Lubitsch skilfully manipulates the scenario so that there is no surface tension between the moralistic view and the view of the film, which aligns itself with Gaston, and as a result a subversive set of ideas appear very normal. This is particularly clear at the film’s conclusion when Gaston and Lily (Miriam Hopkins), his lover and partner in crime, accomplish the robbery and escape. This embodies the tensions hidden within the film. It appears to be a traditional happy ending because the central characters are re-united, re-enact the series of actions which brought them together, and depart. However in a crucial way this ending completely departs from the conventions of Hollywood narratives, allowing the criminals to escape. As William Paul states: “To my knowledge, Trouble in Paradise is the only film in which the thieves not only get away with the loot but actually go on to a charmed life of more thievery” (Paul 51). It is Lubitsch’s sense of irony that places the thieves at the centre of the story and also shows them to be morally stronger than the other characters in the film; they may steal but they are not rich, so do not squander their money and they have more style than many of the supposedly sophisticated characters. Significantly they align themselves with one of the film’s constant messages that equates wealth not with money or status but with intellect and ingenuity. This is made clear from the start, where it is explicitly stated that Gaston and Lily prefer each other as honest criminals than as the members of the aristocracy that they pretend to be upon first meeting. There are of course some exceptions to the wealth equating to intellect concept, most notably Filiba (Edward Everett Horton) who is rich yet far from intelligent. However, this discrepancy is dealt with almost immediately as Gaston is able to take advantage of Filiba’s decadence and stupidity by robbing him in the opening moments of the film.

Lubitsch’s treatment of sex is even more unusual. The film openly depicts sex outside of marriage without hinting that Lily and Gaston even have the intention of wedding. This is combined with Gaston’s affair with Mariette Colet, which cements the love triangle from the opening credits. Gerald Mast notes that “the usual separation in the American film is between LOVE and SEX…For Lubitsch, LOVE and SEX are not opposites, but allies; the two passions are inseparable” (Mast 208-209). This is clearly problematic as the attitudes and actions that Lubitsch wishes to depict are clearly subjects which the American audience were unfamiliar with and which were becoming increasingly prohibited by the censors. The idea that two people can have sex not only outside of marriage but outside of love would become one of the major taboos of Hollywood cinema once the Production Code became enforced in 1934, and even during the period in which Trouble in Paradise was made censorship was becoming more stringent. As a result, in order for Lubitsch to display the subject matter that he wanted he had to do so in an oblique manner. In 1932, the actual subjects he wanted to depict were not strictly outlawed, and in his next film, Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933), Lubitsch would push the boundaries even further by having the plot revolve around a ménage-a-trois, however these ideas could not be explicitly shown on screen. This may be one of the reasons why many of Lubitsch’s films are not located in America. He “would make sex comedies, set in Vienna or Paris or even mythical kingdoms, where [he] could ‘get away with it.’ To Americans, foreigners were decadent – America, itself, must remain pure” (Weinberg 63-64). This battle with acceptability is apparent throughout Lubitsch’s films and in Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch, 1943) he appears to remark directly on it when one character, discussing acceptable behaviour between a man and a woman in 1887 states: “What was bad yesterday is a lot of fun today,” an ironic comment and possibly Lubitsch’s way of pointing out that less was acceptable in 1943 than it was in 1932. Lubitsch adapted his already suggestive style so as to be able to say what he wanted without actually showing it and it is this technique that really characterised Lubitsch and became a huge influence on other directors in later years.

Gerald Mast states that “Lubitsch’s art is one of omission. It is an art of “not” – what is not shown, what is not heard, what is not said” (Mast 207), something François Truffaut echoes when he writes that Lubitsch’s craft is “a matter of not telling the story, even of searching for a way not to tell it” (Truffaut 51). Lubitsch’s art is comprised of metaphors and substitutions; he tells us what is happening or what is going to happen by showing us something else. Whereas other directors would simply fade to black to imply something illicit, Lubitsch never leaves the scene, he merely looks away. Although this has the effect of removing potentially sensitive material from the screen these absences of information also, paradoxically, work as additions. By not showing something we are presented with something else instead, and this in turn suggests that something is not being shown. Once this realisation has been reached, the something that is not being shown reveals itself; as one censor of the time commented: “You know what he’s saying you just can’t prove that he’s saying it!” (Durgnat 110) One example of this is when the affair between Gaston and Mariette is at its peak and the couple are shown as reflections in a series of mirrors and then as shadows, stretched out over the white sheets of her bed. Although it is not explicitly stated that they sleep together the shadows on the bed make this seem likely. This sequence is a counterpart to a moment earlier in the film in which Lily and Gaston embrace and recline onto a settee, a movement accompanied by a dissolve to a shot of the empty settee. Although the image of lovemaking is literally removed it is more explicit than the shadows on the bed because the image of the once occupied settee, whilst showing nothing, suggests everything; if the couple are not there then they must have relocated to a more comfortable area of the bedroom. This idea is enforced when the curtains are drawn and a ‘Do Not Disturb Sign’ is placed on the outside of the door.

The effect of these asides demonstrates a key aspect of the ‘Lubitsch Touch,’ a blurring of style and content. As V. F. Perkins notes, “selection by the camera…asserts significance. The image is displayed not only to relay information but to claim that it matters and to guide us towards the ways in which it matters” (Perkins 20). Braudy takes this further suggesting that these asides “embrace the audience as a co-conspirator of interpretation, an accomplice to the director’s and the camera’s knowingness” (Braudy 1078). In these sequences the stylistic decision to show the couple in the mirrors and then as shadows does not just reflect and comment on the content of the scene, as images like this would do in the work of other directors, in Lubitsch’s hands this style actually becomes the content.

Ironically this shift towards oblique representations of taboos actually increases the suggestiveness of the film, allowing Lubitsch to include a series of double entendres which make the film even more risqué. By employing similar techniques used to disguise the taboo subject matter Lubitsch highlights other moments which would otherwise have remained innocuous. Consider this dialogue exchange:

Gaston: You know exactly what we’re here for and what it’s all about.
Lily: This woman has more than jewellery…Did you ever take a good look at her…erm…
Gaston: Certainly.
Lily: They’re alright aren’t they?
Gaston: Beautiful. What of it? Let me tell you something, as far as I’m concerned her whole sex appeal is in that safe.

Here we can see how Lubitsch playfully uses the dialogue to suggest sexual attraction between Gaston and Mariette. When Lily tells Gaston that Mariette has “more than jewellery” the conversation does not then go on to focus on what this is, instead Lily begins talking about Mariette’s pearls. However because of the way the conversation is structured the two could just as easily be talking about other areas of Mariette’s anatomy. As a result the conversation embodies both Lily’s admiration of Mariette’s jewellery and her fears of Gaston’s appreciation of Mariette’s other assets at the same time.

Perhaps then the key component of the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ is the style itself. The level of sophistication apparent in the film is clear both in narrative and stylistic terms. Although the film focuses on thievery, Lubitsch is very careful never to actually show anything being stolen in Trouble in Paradise, and the thieves are depicted as magicians, conjuring handbags, watches, pearls, wallets and garters from their pockets with neither the audience nor the victim aware of the theft until much later. When this is contrasted to another film which deals with much the same thing, Entrapment (John Amiel, 1999), in which most of the screen-time is taken up with the robberies themselves and their preparation, the sophistication of the Lubitsch film becomes clear. It is Lubitsch’s style that creates this sophistication and directly reflects the methods of filmmaking employed to create the film.

In this respect we can see that the opening of Trouble in Paradise serves several important functions. The seventeen minute prologue contains two narrative points, the meeting between Lily and Gaston, and Gaston’s robbery of Filiba, a character who will return later as a potential threat. Beyond this it serves no further narrative function. However, without it the film would be greatly diminished as it also serves two further purposes. Firstly it introduces us to the world which operates within the film, a world which is so unusual that this introduction is necessary to make the scenario believable. This is a world in which two people, over dinner, can casually accuse each other of robbery, as easily as they can pass the salt. The rapid changes in tone evident throughout this scene, as well as the tensions between surface appearance and reality, allow the rest of the film to be understood. The opening moments demonstrate a transition between the melancholic and the amusing. The first lines of the film, a conversation between Gaston and a waiter discussing the dinner that he is about to order, embody this melancholic attitude when Gaston states that “It must be the most marvellous supper. We may not eat it, but it must be marvellous…And waiter…you see that moon?…I want to see the moon in the champagne.” Although the request is amusing, it is spoken with such seriousness that it is romanticised. The sequence becomes amusing once Gaston and Lily begin the charade of pretending to be aristocrats. It is dramatic volte-faces such as this that characterise the whole film and are evident throughout Lubitsch’s career, such as in the absurd plot of To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942), a comedy set during the German invasion of Poland.

The sequence also creates a world outside of the frame of the film. V. F. Perkins notes that in a film, “There is always an out-of-sight just as there is always an off-screen. Out of sight cannot be entirely out of mind: we may not know what lies beyond the horizon but we do know that there is a beyond” (Perkins 22), and the film’s references to Geneva, Munich, America and Constantinople demonstrate that this fictional Venice is part of an entire fictional world which, despite never being seen, is known to exist. Lubitsch uses this world to directly connect the film’s themes:

[it] opens in Venice, known since the Renaissance not only as a great centre of business and trade, but also as the world’s hub of espionage and treachery…After this…we are taken to Paris, capital…of love. Such a geography gives the film a firm grounding on which to hang the sex-business-money themes which run through it. (Kaszarski 47)

We are also given hints that the characters have lives outside of the filmic world. Gaston has been to Constantinople, he is adept at speaking Russian, has the ability to disguise himself and convincingly pose as a doctor and has a detailed knowledge of women’s makeup and accounting procedures. “Movies always take us into the middle of things because the film and its story begin, but the world does not. [The characters]…all have relevant histories” (Perkins 25). Similarly we are allowed to see the reality of Lily’s world when the phone call she takes from the Duchess of Chambro is actually shown to be from a large pyjama wearing woman. Again we glimpse the outside world with its issues and dilemmas and are plunged into the middle of a situation with very few explanations; we don’t find out what Lily’s dog did, nor are we privy to what this woman is doing or why Lily has to return via the back stairs and not the front when she returns home. This embodies Perkins’ idea that “The camera’s selectivity means that the framed image and the (boundless) fictional world create and account for one another” (Perkins 20).

As well as cementing the believability of the filmic world, the switch between the Duchess of Chambro and the pyjama wearing woman also highlights the tensions between appearance and reality, apparent from the image of the garbage man which opens the film. It is only once he crosses over to his garbage gondola that we realise that the setting is Venice, a device which works in opposition to expectations. Most directors, intending to show the notion of Venice as a place of decadence under its beautiful exterior, would begin with a view of the city to set the scene and then focus on the garbage man, however by reversing this sequence Lubitsch manages to make the same point with a much more savage efficiency. This separation of image and reality is furthered when the gondolier begins to sing, cinematic devices allowing the voice of Italian tenor Enrico Caruso to emanate from the garbage man’s mouth (Hake 176). It embodies Hake’s argument that: “By using sound-image relations in a highly reflective manner, Lubitsch calls into question the distinction between appearance and reality and initiates a vertiginous play with different levels of filmic reality” (Hake 176).

This juxtaposition of sound and image brings the second major function of the film’s opening into view, introducing us to the technical world of the film and easing us into the mechanics of Lubitsch’s craft. This recognition of the world being both a fiction within the film and a product of filmic techniques embodies V. F. Perkins’ statement that a “film’s form and method are incomprehensible outside of a recognition that its story takes place, and its images are both made and found, in a world” (Perkins 22). Once an audience is aware of how the film constructs and represents this world, the world then becomes believable and it is for this reason that the prologue is important as it allows the audience to adjust to Lubitsch’s unusual methods of storytelling.

In his article “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” André Bazin argues that silent cinema reached its artistic peak once the use of montage had been perfected as a means of meaning creation but that it was less suited to sound films. Although Bazin notes that wider angles are favourable with sound, he also demonstrates that montage continued to be used, even though it was not the best use of the cinematic form. Trouble in Paradise might be seen as an exception. As Richard Kaszarski states

the cutting is of textbook quality – textbook by André Bazin, that is…nearly all the scenes are played in full shots of extended duration…There is trickery here but not the…trickery of montage editing; we are made to realize that we’ve been fooled by the things themselves, and not the way they’ve been manipulated. (Kaszarski 48)

It would however be wrong to state that Lubitsch does not use editing as a device for meaning creation, and in fact Bazin’s description of montage as “the creation of a sense or meaning not proper to the images themselves but derived exclusively from their juxtaposition” (Bazin 25), does encapsulate many of the moments that make the film special. However as with most of Lubitsch’s methods he does it unconventionally, creating the content of the film not just commenting on it. Although his use of editing might appear to hark back to the silent era it actually produces results which could not have been possible without sound. The famous sequence in which Lubitsch depicts Gaston escorting Mariette to dinner and then partaking in late-night champagne through a series of close-ups of clocks, which indicate the stage of the evening and the pair’s developing relationship, looks like it could have been lifted from a silent film. However, over the images of the clocks we witness portions of conversations which provide us with critical details; this sequence would be impossible without sound. Another play on sound occurs during the garden part at Mariette’s mansion. One shot details Gaston and Mariette talking outside, whilst the camera is placed inside, on the other side of a glass window. As in silent films we can see the conversation but can not hear it. Unlike a silent film we are not provided with title cards to give us the missing information. Lubitsch would repeat this trick more playfully a decade later in Heaven Can Wait when the mouth movements of the silent figures outside are paired with the bark of a dog within the room. These sound and image relations are also used to condense time, such as the moment at the opera when the image of the opening score is accompanied by the line “I love you,” before the pages turn and the line becomes, “I hate you,” showing that time has elapsed as well as mocking the conventions of opera. All of these instances demonstrate the notion that nothing in a Lubitsch film is wasted. Truffaut states that “there’s not a single shot just for decoration; nothing is included just because it looks good. From beginning to end, we are involved only in what’s essential” (Truffaut 52).

Bazin notes that montage is a means by which a director can control and clarify what is being shown and how the viewer interprets the images when he states that “in analyzing reality, montage presupposes of its very nature the unity of meaning of the dramatic event” (Bazin 36), and montage usually leads to a single interpretation of an event because of the way it has been presented. Lubitsch subverts this notion in the opening of the film which appears to be constructed in such a way to lead directly to confusion. After Gaston orders his meal Lubitsch inserts a series of shots of a frantic telephone operator, a hotel manager and waiters and maids all talking excitedly. These images are accompanied by up-tempo music which continues through the cut as we see Gaston opening his door and Lily entering hurriedly. This appears to link the excitement with Lily’s arrival, however it is not until later that we realise that the two events are unrelated and the excitement is actually being generated by the robbery in another hotel room. This subversion of filmic conventions is utilised by Lubitsch continuously. In the opera house we are given Gaston’s point of view as he picks out Mariette from the crowd when a shot of him looking through opera glasses is followed by a shot with a masked border in the shape of said glasses. However as the shot progresses from a wide angle to a close-up it becomes apparent that we have been misled. We assume we are looking from Gaston’s perspective and certainly the emphasis on the handbag is Gaston’s, but the zooming, sweeping motion evident in the shot could not be achieved through opera glasses. It is elements like this that, although unusual, are skilfully manipulated by Lubitsch to appear invisible.

A combination of this subversion of conventions and Lubitsch’s constant changes of tone is also apparent when Gaston is revealed to be a thief. The camera swiftly pans to the door and our initial expectation is that the sequence will end as Gaston is about to harm Lily. However the sequence does not end, instead Gaston follows the camera, accompanied by dramatic music, locks it with a stern look on his face and pockets the key. We fear the worst because of the way Lubitsch has created this serious situation; however when Gaston returns to the table he does not hurt Lily. Instead he shakes her to dislodge the wallet that she has stolen from him and they exchange the possessions that they have stolen from each other. This sequence prepares the audience for a later sequence in which Lily, reading about the bag Gaston has stolen in the newspaper, does so in such an overstated manner, accompanied by such dramatic music, that she appears to be about to reveal some terrible news. On the contrary, she actually reveals that there is a reward for the bag and that if Gaston returns it he would make more money than if he tried to sell it; hardly bad news at all. It is this unique style and presentation that characterises the work of Lubitsch and distinguishes his work from that of any other and it is for this reason that Braudy describes Trouble in Paradise as “the closest [Lubitsch] gets in his films to a meditation on his own artistic motives” (Braudy 1073).

It is as a result of all of these aspects that Trouble in Paradise can be seen to be a great film and Lubitsch a great director and artist. Therefore it is difficult to imagine a way of completely appreciating the film without taking into account any of the aspects I have detailed above. Although no knowledge of the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ is needed to value the film, it is the aspects of the film that could be said to demonstrate the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ that stand out. It is clear that it is because of Lubitsch’s individuality as an artist that the film is great, and therefore an understanding of the ‘Lubitsch Touch’ can not help but to increase this appreciation, as Leo Braudy notes “if you are unmoved, the ‘touch’ is mere embroidery, while if you you’re an aficionado, it is…the evidence of pure film poetry” (Braudy 1075).


Bakshy, Alexander, ‘??Trouble in Paradise??’ review from The Nation (December 7, 1932), reprinted in Stanley Kauffmann and Bruce Hensell (ed.), American Film Criticism – From the Beginnings to Citizen Kane (Westpoint: Greenwood Press, Inc, 1979),

Bazin, André, ‘The Evolution of the Language of Cinema’ in Bazin, André, What is Cinema? – Volume 1 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974).

Braudy, Leo, ‘The Double Detachment of Ernst Lubitsch’, Modern Language Notes, 98:5 (December 1983), pp. 1071-1084.

Carringer, Robert and Sabath, Barry, Ernst Lubitsch – A Guide to References and Resources (Boston: G.K.Hall & Co, 1978).

Deren, Maya, ‘Cinema as an Art Form’ in Lewis Jacobs (ed.), Introduction to the Art of the Movies (New York: The Noonday Press, 1974).

Durgnat, Raymond, The Crazy Mirror – Hollywood Comedy and the American Image (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1969).

Hake, Sabine, Passions and Deceptions – The Early Films of Ernst Lubitsch (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

Kaplan, E. Ann Kaplan, ‘Lubitsch Reconsidered’, Quarterly Review of Film Studies, 6:3 (Summer 1981), pp. 305-312.

Kaszarski, Richard, ‘On ??Trouble in Paradise??’, Film Comment, 6:3 (Fall 1970), pp47-48.

Lindgren, Ernest, The Art of the Film (London: George Allen & Unwin Limited, 1963).

Mast, Gerald, The Comic Mind –Comedy and the Movies (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc, 1973).

Paul, William, Ernst Lubitsch’s American Comedy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).

Perkins, V.F., ‘Where is the world? The horizon of events in movie fiction’ in John Gibbs and Douglas Pye (eds.), Style and Meaning: Studies In the Detailed Analysis of Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005).

Poague, Leland A., The Cinema of Ernst Lubitsch (London: The Tantivy Press, 1979).

Truffaut, François, ‘Lubitsch Was A Prince’ in The Films in My Life (London: Allen Lane, 1980).

Weinberg, Herman G., The Lubitsch Touch –A Critical Study (New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1977).


Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari /??The Cabinet of Dr Caligari??, Dir. Robert Wiene, Prod. Decla-Bioscop AG, Germany, 1920.

Design For Living, Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, Prod. Paramount Pictures, U.S.A., 1933.

Entrapment, Dir. John Amiel, Prod. 20th Century Fox / Fountainbridge Films / Regency Entertainment / Taurus Film, U.S.A., 1999.

Heaven Can Wait, Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, Prod. Twentieth Century Film Corporation, U.S.A., 1943.

Madame Dubarry, Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, Prod. Projektion-AG Union (PAGU), Germany, 1919.

Rosita, Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, Prod. Mary Pickford Company, U.S.A., 1923.

To Be or Not To Be, Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, Prod. Romaine Film Company, U.S.A., 1942.

Trouble in Paradise, Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, Prod. Paramount Publix Corporation, U.S.A., 1932

Volume 12, Issue 3 / March 2008 Essays   comedy   film style