“TWENTIETH CENTURY” ( 1934 ).
Well folks, I’m up to my second movie for ‘Screwball Comedy Month’. It was a hard choice picking what film out of my seven choices to review next, but I wanted to do a Carole Lombard one, so that narrowed it down. The Carole film I’ve chosen to do is “Twentieth Century” which pairs Carole with the great John Barrymore.
The film revolves around the story of the former lingerie model Mildred Plotka ( Carole Lombard ) and flamboyant Broadway director Oscar Jaffe ( John Barrymore ). Mildred is an aspiring young actress who yearns for a place in the theatre, but through inexperience she is finding it hard to be appreciated. When Oscar Jaffe casts his upcoming play, he sees that certain star quality in Mildred that nobody else has witnessed. With the grave refusals of his two longtime suffering assistants, Oliver Webb and Owen O’Malley, he makes her the star of his new play, transforming his protégée into Lily Garland, a full fledged seasoned actress. During the course of the next three years, and with three more successful plays that receive critical acclaim, Lily Garland is one of the theatre’s most puissant sensations.
Irascible with Oscar’s predominate ways, Lily tries to break off their professional and personal relationship to build her own career. Oscar deprecates the idea, promising that he will be less controlling and more amicable in the future. Even though they made an agreement, Jaffe can’t stick to his promise, and this time he hires a private detective agency run by McGonigle to watch her every move, and tap into her phone calls. When Garland finds out that she is once again trapped in Oscar’s cobweb, she leaves Jaffe for good, and departs for Hollywood, and becomes an eminent movie star.
While Lily Garland’s career escalates to great heights, Oscar Jaffe continues on producing plays without Lily, but with each play being a flop, Oscar’s career exacerbates, and he finds both himself and his theatre under threat. To avoid being imprisoned for his debts, he disguises himself and boards the ‘Twentieth Century Limited’ train en route to New York from Chicago, where he reunites with Lily again. Oscar sees this as the perfect opportunity to try and salvage his career and relationship with Lily.
Released in May 1934, a few months before the Hays Code was rigorously enforced on July 1st, 1934, “Twentieth Century” still fits into the criteria as a Pre Code movie. The film was superbly directed by Howard Hawks, who went on to direct notable Screwball Comedies such as “Bringing Up Baby”, “His Girl Friday”, and bodacious Film Noirs like “To Have And Have Not” and “The Big Sleep” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
For a foray into Screwball Comedy, “Twentieth Century” is known as one of the seminal screwball comedies, but displays many of the elements that the ones in the following years featured like zany and maniacal characters, living at a frenetic pace, pouring out absurd and nonsensical lines at each other.
Carole Lombard is primarily remembered as the ‘Queen Of Screwball Comedy’. She was adept at playing madcap characters, and always delivering commendable performances. Here in the role as Lily Garland, she is very jocular, yelling and screaming at Oscar Jaffe, while Oscar tries his hardest trying to win her back. John Barrymore spoofing a Svengali role gives one of his most meritorious performances in his portrayal of Oscar Jaffe, an overwrought character who shamelessly hams it up, resulting in many endless tirades.
“Twentieth Century” is known as Carole’s break through role, but she has starred in many pictures before this.
John Barrymore once said that the role of Oscar was “a role that comes once in a lifetime” and even deemed this his favorite of all the movies he appeared in.
Lily Garland: “That’s the trouble with you, Oscar. With both of us. We’re not people, we’re lithographs. We don’t know anything about love unless it’s written and rehearsed. We’re only real in between curtains.”
Oscar Jaffe: “I never thought I should sink so low as to become an actor.”
Lily Garland: “All those opera tenors, acrobats, that Italian bicycle rider I told you about… they’re all lies. The only man in my life was that cavalier in there. Oscar Jaffe.”
Oscar Jaffe: “You squalling little amateur. On your feet! Get up! Take that hump out of your back. You’re not demonstrating underwear anymore.”
Carole Lombard: Born Jane Alice Peters on October 6th, 1908 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Died: January 16th, 1942, at the age of 33, on Mount Potosi, Nevada. Cause of death: Airplane crash.
John Barrymore: Born John Sidney Blyth on February 15th, 1882 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: May 29th, 1942 in Los Angeles, California. Age: 60. Cause of death: Alcoholism.