In Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 romantic comedy Trouble in Paradise, thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) meets his soul mate in pickpocket Lily (Miriam Hopkins). Together, they hatch a plan to rob Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), owner of the Colet perfume company. As part of the ruse, Gaston takes a job as Colet’s personal secretary but soon becomes romantically involved with her, forcing him to choose between two beautiful women.
Watch Trouble in Paradise. Then try these writing exercises, borrowed from my grad-school class on “Film and Approaches to Writing the Novel” with John Rechy, exploring the movie’s themes of disguise and witty repartee:
- Describe a person only through his or her clothes. Without indicating what it is, convey the societal status that person wants to appear to belong to, as well as what status he or she actually belongs to. Through careful details convey whether that person is assured or insecure within the social milieu that the clothes are intended to represent. At the bottom of the paragraph, identify the actual status and the presumed status.
- Without employing dialogue, write a romantic scene between two people that has definite overtones of becoming sexual. But use no overtly sexual words or references to body parts generally associated with sexuality.
- By using a substitute situation (removed from the actual convention to be explored, as indicated), suggest/provide a new view of an established convention—e.g., loyalty, faithfulness, patriotism, sexual mores, et al—e.g., exploring sexual mores through the convention of formal dining.
- Write a comedic scene using witty, light, “sophisticated” dialogue between two persons that conveys the lack of awareness of a deeply serious societal condition, while clearly indicating to the reader what that ignored condition is and how dangerous it may become to the apathetic protagonists without their knowledge.
- Write dialogue between two people and set it against a background of wealth (or relative wealth); then write the exact passage of dialogue but now set it against a background of poverty.
The Mots Justes Series on Film and Approaches to Writing