Twentieth Century (1934)

by Paul on September 25, 2012

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Twentieth Century is a 1934 screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks. Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) is a BroadwayTwentieth Century producer who has just signed a lingerie model (Carole Lombard) to be the star of his next play. She has no experience, and little talent, but Jaffe is sure he can mold her into a star. He even changes her name to Lily Garland. Jaffe is exactly the kind of overly dramatic man who lives and breathes the theater. There is nothing as important to him as a magnificent and honest performance. He quickly teaches Lily everything that she needs to succeed, and that is exactly what she does. Lily follows every instruction that he gives, and it pays off beautifully. They produce hit after hit and she quickly becomes a huge star. Along with their success, Jaffe also generates a love for Lily, as well as an overprotective, unnerving sense of jealousy. He even goes to the extreme of hiring a detective agency to tap her phone. When Lily Twentieth Centuryfinds out how intensely crazy Jaffe has become, she packs her bags and heads out to Hollywood.

Years later, Jaffe is unable to produce anything but flops and Lily has only become more popular than before. Jaffe has boarded the “Twentieth Century” train on its way from Chicago to New York, and by some amazing coincidence, Lily is on board the same train as she heads back to Broadway. Jaffe sees Lily as his last chance for greatness, and decides that by any means necessary, he has to get Lily to sign a contract with him before the train reaches the station.

Twentieth Century is screwball comedy at its best. Everything is over the top and out of control. These characters are so far removed fromTwentieth Century the world of reality that there is little difference between their performances on the stage or their lives off the stage.

John Barrymore gives an extremely funny performance and in many ways appears to be making jokes at the expense of himself and other brilliant stage actors of his day. With his crazy eyes he appears to have lost his mind, yet at times I think he is the only character who really knows what is going on.

Carole Lombard was on her way up the ranks of comedic actress in 1934. She had a few good roles under her belt, but this was the one that separates the girl from the leading lady. She gives the best acting up to this point in her career and deserves full credit for her ability to match up with Barrymore in every scene. Howard Hawks thought she was perfect for the role, and although there were moments early Twentieth Centuryon that many had doubts, Lombard was able to reach down deep and pull out the feisty, no-nonsense woman that she is best remembered for playing.

Twentieth Century is a non-stop train ride full of laughs that everyone is sure to enjoy. I highly recommend seeing this film again and again.

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