Even if it had no extras, film fans should rejoice in the DVD bow of “Trouble in Paradise,” the impossibly swanky and delightful Ernst Lubitsch-directed comedy. But the Criterion Collection has polished this gem with a pristine print and created a jewelbox setting via a slew of imaginative additions.
The best extra is a 1917 Lubitsch silent, “Das Fidele Gefangnis” (The Merry Jail). The 47-minute pic, structured in three acts, is wonderfully absurd, concerning a charming rogue who opts for a night of carousing rather than honor his appointment to spend 24 hours in jail. His wife enlists a lovestruck gent to take his place in prison, but decides to teach a lesson to hubby.
Throwing in cunning disguises, mistaken identities and a team of roller-skating beauties, the pic is far-fetched, but so is the central conceit: Take the plot of an operetta (“Die Fledermaus”) and make a silent film of it. While that sounds oxymoronic — like a CD of a mime show — Lubitsch makes it frothy fun, and it’s greatly enhanced by Aljoscha Zimmerman’s jaunty score, recorded especially for this DVD release.
For the audio commentary on “Paradise,” Criterion enlisted Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman, who proves a smart choice. His text is carefully prepared and, if it lacks spontaneity, it is well written (observing, for example, that the characters’ “heartless self-absorption was part of their charm”) and throwing in references to everyone from Truffaut to RuPaul.
Eyman carefully bows out at certain points, to let the dialogue be heard, but mostly he fills the 82 minutes of running time with insights into the director, actors and other contributors, particularly honoring scripter Samson Raphaelson.
Eyman also puts the film into historical perspective, chatting about the Depression and the Hays Office, and offers an astonishing glimpse into moviemaking 70 years ago: Lubitsch turned in the script to Paramount on July 15, 1932 — the first draft was the last draft — the pic was lensed July 27-Sept. 9, and it was released Oct. 21.
The Criterion release also contains a DVD oddity: a half-hour 1940 radio show, in which Lubitsch, Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert and Basil Rathbone play themselves. DVD owners may feel they’re in an alternate universe as they stare at a tinted photo of a radio on their TV screen for a half-hour, but they’ll soon give in, because the broadcast is so damn funny.