Flick Picks: Ernst Lubitsch and a Hollywood Golden Age

There might not have been one Hollywood golden age so much as several. Certainly, a great number of film comedies produced in the 1930's constitute one such age. This was particularly the case in the period between the adoption of the Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) in 1930 and the beginning of its enforcement in 1934. Hollywood films of this brief window in time achieved a level of candor and sophistication not to be seen for decades.

One of the giants of 1930's and 40's film comedy was German immigrant Ernst Lubitsch.  So polished were the director's comedies of manners that they were eventually and rightfully heralded as having "the Lubitsch touch."

Miriam Hopkins

The Glencoe Library has recently acquired two great Lubitsch comedies from the years before the crackdown of the Production Code. Both star Miriam Hopkins, an actress little known today but one of the great screwball comediennes of the 30's and beyond.  

In Design for Living, Hopkins is in the middle of a Parisian love triangle between Gary Cooper and Frederic March. This lasts until the menage a trois becomes too much for everyone and Hopkins' character runs off to America and marries a staid businessman played by Lubitsch regular Edward Everett Horton. Neither Cooper nor March can stand for this and the sanctity of marriage is in for an irreverent assault, the laughs courtesy of a typically sharp script by Ben Hecht, based on a play by Noel Coward.  

Even better is Trouble in Paradise, in which Hopkins is matched with the suave English actor Herbert Marshall. They play two thieves who meet in Venice and decide to team up to rob a wealthy perfume manufacturer (played by another major star of the 1930's, Kay Francis). Both critics and audiences at the time were very pleased with the results. But so risque was Trouble in Paradise considered after the enforcement of the Production Code that the film did not see the light of day nor the dark of the cinema between its banishment in 1935 and the end of the Code in 1968. Lubitsch apparently considered it one of his favorites and you're much more likely to be charmed than scandalized by Trouble in Paradise from your 21st-century vantage point.

Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marhsall in Trouble in Paradise

The library also has several other Lubitsch films in its collection:  Ninotchka (Garbo laughs!), The Shop Around the Corner and Heaven Can Wait. We also have many great comedies from the 1930's and beyond in our "Classic" section, all of the films in the Glencoe collection released before 1976. Check 'em out!

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