Last year, I wrote a little piece about Edward Everett Horton’s inescapable and always welcome presence in 1930s and 40s comedy films, and so I thought I’d restart my COMEDY GOLD series this month with one of my favorite performances of his: François in Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble In Paradise (1932). It’s the story of a thief, Gaston (Herbert Marshall), and a pickpocket, Lily (Miriam Hopkins), who decide to team up and con the owner of a perfume company, Mariette (Kay Francis). As would be expected, Gaston and Mariette end up falling in love and things go awry… Now, where does François come into this? Well, as it turns out, François himself had been conned by Gaston previously, when the latter robbed him while pretending to be a doctor. As this realization finally dawns on him, we’re treated to one of the film’s funniest moments, as Edward Everett Horton and Charles Ruggles prove to be one hell of a double act.
At a party thrown by the Major (Ruggles), he and François discuss Gaston (‘Funny the kind of men women fall for’) while sitting on the sofa. They comment on the fact that he’s ‘dull’ and ‘insignificant’, stating that he’s always been a secretary and he will always be one. The Major then casually mentions that the first time he saw him, he thought he was a doctor. Cue that classic Edward Everett Horton reaction, followed by Ruggles’. François then looks at the Major, gets up, then the Major gets up, then they both sit back down, only to get up again. François then turns to Mariette and exclaims ‘Tonsils, positively tonsils!’, unmasking Gaston once and for all.
I love everything about this movie (Lubitsch!), but I have always had a soft spot for Edward Everett Horton. He literally makes any movie better just by being in it. And let’s not forget Charles Ruggles, who is always charming in everything, no matter how wacky it is (Major Applegate in Bringing up Baby, anyone?). They are brilliant and I wish they’d made more movies together. One can only imagine what that would have been like.