I already have a particular fondness for pre-1950 witty romantic comedies, so this might be a bit biased. But Ernst Lubitsch’s TROUBLE IN PARADISE is a near flawless film, and certainly among the best of that genre. Gaston and Lily are professional thieves in love with their work and in love with each other. Together they plan to con the perfume manufacturer Madame Colet, never expecting the love triangle that complicates their plan. The dialog is clever and sharp, but the filmmaking is just as clever. I love the montage told from the perspective of various clocks ticking off the minutes, or the shot of two shadows suggestively falling across a bed. (Because it was made pre-code, sexual innuendo abounds.) All three characters are wonderful, the entire film is intelligent and fun, and I enjoyed it start to finish.
MY MAN GODFREY opens on a Depression era dump in New York City, home to a number of “forgotten men,” i.e. those who have lost everything. When two socialite sisters arrive at the dump, they explain to the titular Godfrey that a “forgotten man” also happens to be the last item in a scavenger hunt. Needless to say, he is not amused. By the end of the night, one sister has landed in an ash pile, while the other has decided to hire Godfrey as the family’s new butler. Hilarity ensues in this classic screwball comedy that gently mocks the idle rich. William Powell and Carole Lombard are excellent as the romantic leads, although I found Lombard’s childish character a bit more obnoxious than charming. Still, the humor is spot on, and the cast of characters—with the exception of stoic, cynical Godfrey—are all delightfully insane.
As engaging as any psychological thriller today and perhaps better crafted, M tells the story of a serial killer (and implied pedophile) stalking the city of Berlin. The film is about more than the horror of his crimes and the thrill of the chase, however. It focuses, instead, on the impact these have on a fearful, paranoid city. The police and a band of professional criminals work against each other to capture the murderer first, while citizens turn on each other with false accusations and mob mentality. Most surprising is the ending, when Peter Lorre, as the killer, gives a remarkable performance that actually lends sympathy to his character and raises currently relevant questions about the nature of the justice system. Actually, most everything about this film feels current. Each shot and transition is expertly orchestrated, and the use of sound is so skilled that it’s difficult to believe this was Fritz Lang’s first “talkie.”