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Paradise for Three

One of the most popular German writers before the outbreak of World War II, Emil Erich Kästner rose to prominence in 1928 with his popular children's book, Emil and the Detectives, which spawned a popular series and is often credited with creating the modern young detective subgenre. However, his other novels were highly successful as well despite his lack of favor with the growing Nazi regime at the time; in fact, one of his most successful works, 1935's Drei Männer im Schnee (or Three Men in the Snow), had to be published outside his country in Switzerland despite its lack of politically controversial content.

A lightweight comic tale about deception and social conventions, Three Men in the Snow follows the confusion that erupts when a millionaire decides to pose as a poor servant during a snowy vacation in the Alps, with his servant pretending to be rich instead and a potential suitor for his daughter becomes entangled in the deception.

Obviously this plot was ripe for the Hollywood treatment, which specialized in glossy screwball comedies involving misidentification and romantic confusion. The book wasn't even published in English until 1938, but as early as 1936, MGM was interested in the project with numerous treatments written in German and English by writers including Gladys Unger, Irma von Cube, Peter Olman, William Slavens McNutt, Richard Schayer, and even Dalton Trumbo. By March of 1937, Trumbo and Harry Ruskin had a complete screenplay turned in, but another polish was needed with George Oppenheimer going through another draft in August. Ultimately Oppenheimer and Ruskin received credit for the finished product, which throws a few extra complications into the plot and bears the more alluring, American-friendly title of Paradise for Three.

Tasked with directing the film was Edward Buzzell, a former Broadway musical performer and Vitaphone star who moved into directing at Columbia with films like Ann Carver's Profession (1933). He made the leap to MGM soon after, where his success with low budget but polished productions like this led to plum assignments like films for the Marx Brothers, including At the Circus (1939) and Go West (1940), and Esther Williams with Easy to Wed (1946) and Neptune's Daughter (1949).

Of course, the real fun for classic film fans is watching the combination of familiar stars at very different points in their careers. A veteran silent actor who had successfully made the move to talkies with his rich, boisterous voice, Frank Morgan had already excelled in films like The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and was an obvious choice to play the wealthy, duplicitous Rudolph Tobler. Of course, one year later he would find screen immortality as the title character in The Wizard of Oz (1939), and he would continue acting busily until his death one decade later.

A younger but equally seasoned performer is a name even more familiar to classic viewers, Mary Astor, who had just scored successes in Dodsworth (1936) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). She had already proven her skill with frothy comedy in the classic Easy to Love (1934), and she continued to hone her comedic craft in favorites like Midnight (1939) and The Palm Beach Story (1942) before transitioning into more matronly roles for the majority of her later career. Of course, her gift for dealing with shifting identities here also suited her well when she assumed her most famous role of all, the femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy in the third and most famous version of The Maltese Falcon (1941). Also rounding out the cast are such colorful characters as Edna May Oliver, best known for quirky support in literary adaptations like Little Women (1933) and David Copperfield (1935), beautiful but short-lived starlet Florence Rice (who also appeared in At the Circus), durable screen Scrooge Reginald Owen, and character actor and Broadway veteran Henry Hull, who had just become Hollywood's first lycanthrope in Werewolf of London (1935).

However, the greatest draw here may be the opportunity to see an early leading role for actor Robert Young, cast as romantic lead Fritz Hagedorn. Young had gradually been working his way up the studio ladder since the turn of the decade, including a notable detour to England for Alfred Hitchcock's eccentric Secret Agent (1936), but it wasn't until the following decade that he would really come into his own with starring roles in The Enchanted Cottage (1945) and Crossfire (1947). Of course, his greatest fame still lay ahead on television when he became the star of two long-running series, Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D., as well as a familiar spokesman for Sanka Coffee.

Though fairly successful as far as comedy programmers go, Paradise for Three remains something of an unsung discovery for many film fans due to its relative scarcity on television and home video before its eventual DVD release. Interestingly, the source novel was revisited again in its native language for a German adaptation by Kurt Hoffmann in 1955, with a modernized and decidedly unfaithful third version arriving from krimi director Alfred Vohrer in 1974.

By Nathaniel Thompson



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