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Ernst Lubitsch Love Stories

April 12, 2011

by John Farr

Ernst Lubitsch, director of this week’s Reel 13 Classic Heaven Can Wait, previously helmed two other pictures that set the standard for romcom dialogue.


Trouble in Paradise (1932)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Parisian jewel thieves Gaston (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins) fall in love over dinner-trying to pick each other’s pockets. With a wealthy widow, Mme. Colet (Kay Francis), as their latest mark, they craftily install themselves as her secretary and typist, respectively. But things get complicated when Gaston must pretend to fall for the beautiful heiress (or is he pretending?) and she returns the compliment. Careful, Gaston- you’re playing with fire!

WHY I LOVE IT:

This sublime, soufflé-light farce ranks as one of the director’s finest outings. The film pokes sly fun at conventional mores, and cheerily touts the marvels of sex, riches, and the little games we play with both. All the signature ingredients you’d expect from the Master are here in abundance, including rarefied atmosphere, snappy dialogue, and witty ripostes. Marshall and Hopkins create a striking comic chemistry- he the epitome of English coolness, she wonderfully feisty, but no fool. And Ms. Francis makes a stunning complication! If you like your chuckles with a touch of class, here’s your movie.


The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

When Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) uses her wily sales technique to impress Hugo (Frank Morgan), a Budapest gift-store owner, she is hired to work alongside clerk Alfred Kralik (James Stewart), but the two don’t hit it off. No matter: Alfred is secretly hoping to meet a woman with whom he’s had a promising written correspondence via the personals. Klara, meanwhile, begins to fall for an anonymous man she’s been writing to as well. So it’s a big surprise-to them, not us-when they discover the true identities of their respective pen-pals.

WHY I LOVE IT:

They don’t make romantic comedies like they used to, and no one made them quite like director Ernst Lubitsch, whose famed “touch” lights this wry, poignant, perennially charming film. Veteran players Stewart and Sullavan are a perfect match as comically antagonistic lonelyhearts, conveying their characters’ vulnerabilities with a delicacy too often missing from the tepid Hanks-Ryan remake, “You’ve Got Mail”. Rich subplots involving the wonderful Frank Morgan and Joseph Schildkraut, who plays a scheming, boastful employee, let Lubitsch impart further nuance to this modest but wholly pleasing tale. A delight from start to finish, this is one “Shop” you’ll want to dally in.


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  • comments (0)
  • Steven John Bosch

    This is actually my favorite Ernst Lubitsch film at least in him using a fantasy framework to tell his story.

    Laird Creager makes a very solicitous Satan but I like how Don Ameche and Gene Tierney took their characters from their 20s through to their 50s. I also liked the excellent service rendered by Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Clatett. Did anyone else besides me feel sorry for that poor stiff Cousin Albert? When Henry elopes with his fiance, Albert has to thank everyone for their non-existent sympathy extended to him while the parents console each other, giving the clear indication that this was a marriage about money.

  • rayban

    I love “Ninotchka” with Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.

  • Jack

    Really must appreciate the wonderful dialogue and timing that these films have. Truly great. Just plain fun for grownups.