Romantic comedies more than fluff

Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 "Trouble in Paradise" soars on gossamer wings, thanks to the dashing words of screenwriter Samson Raphaelson. The star, Herbert Marshall, asks a waiter, "If Casanova suddenly … turned out to be Romeo … having supper with Juliet - who might become Cleopatra. … How would you start?"

The waiter replies, "I would start with cocktails."

Marshall, playing a suave con artist, is about to fall in love with an impudent thief, played by Miriam Hopkins. They conjure an affair that's nonstop improvisation. But when the two team up to fleece a perfume heiress, yes, there's trouble in paradise, because she's elegantly irresistible, especially as played by Kay Francis. Lubitsch and Raphaelson contrast the thrill of instant gratification and the pleasure of the delayed payoff without demeaning either. This comic-erotic tug of war is one of Lubitsch and Raphaelson's most sublime accomplishments.

But their greatest achievement is "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940), Saturday's entry in Pratt FilmTalks. Without any saccharine sentiments, this classic romantic comedy depicts Christmas Eve as a time when the world rights itself and touches the divine. An unlikely valentine to a Budapest leather-goods shop, the movie depicts all the flirting and intrigue that can arise among men and women who hope to build a life around a steady job and family and, in some ways, make co-workers their family. Here, love of any kind is a funny sort of miracle. So it's marvelously right that the action climaxes on Dec. 24.

The central love story between James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan is a love quadrangle played out by two people. Stewart is the shop's top employee; Sullavan is a salesgirl hired over his objections. What we soon realize, and they don't, is that they've courted each other anonymously, by mail, via a romantic pen-pal service. In letters, Stewart and Sullavan are passionately high-minded; at work they banter harshly. The friction ends on Christmas Eve, when Stewart calls her "Dear Friend," and she recognizes what he means, and, as the snow falls outside the shop, inside, they melt.

"Trouble in Paradise" plays at noon Saturday, 7 p.m. Monday and 9 p.m. Thursday at the Charles Theatre, 1711 N. Charles St. Call 410-727-3456 or go to "The Shop Around the Corner" plays at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Wheeler Auditorium of the Central Library, 400 Cathedral St. Call 410-396-5430 or go to

"Fiddler" at the Senator: Whether you're lighting candles for the first night of Hanukkah or hoping for a rousing escape before some weekend Christmas shopping, the Senator is the place to be tonight. At 7:30 p.m. the Friends of the Senator present a collector's print of "Fiddler on the Roof," Norman Jewison's rousing 1971 film of the legendary musical. Those who saw Topol do an artfully restrained version of Tevye on stage earlier this year should seize the chance to savor his vigor in the role 38 years ago. This Tevye is great shakes. When he whirls his arms in an impromptu dance, he beats up a wind.

"Fiddler on the Roof" will also play at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Senator Theatre, 5904 York Road near Northern Parkway.

"Money-Driven Medicine" at the Rotunda: The Rotunda Cinemas play host Monday to a screening of "Money-Driven Medicine" and a discussion of the health care system afterward. This documentary about the "medical-industrial complex," taken from Maggie Mahar's book of the same name, promises a more "systemic" look at the topic than Michael Moore's "Sicko." Alex Gibney, the director of "Taxi to the Dark Side" and "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," is one of the producers; Andy Fredericks directed.

Money-Driven Medicine plays at 7 p.m. Monday at the Rotunda Cinemas, 711 W. 40th St. Call 410-235-5554 or go to