Twentieth Century (1934)

63742-twentieth-century-post1Starring John Barrymore and Carol Lombard with direction by Howard Hawks, this archetypal screwball comedy revolves around a frenetic impresario and the emotional girl he made into a household name on Broadway. 

Oscar Jaffe is the undisputed king of Broadway and after he christens the inexperienced Mildred Plotka, Lily Garland, she becomes his box office Queen. He makes her into a great actress and their numerous collaborations turn out success after success. However, as several years pass Lily is fed up and she ends her connection with Jaffe in a volatile falling out after she finds that he has hired a private investigator to keep tabs on her. Without his starlet Jaffe produces flop after flop and he is endangered of being jailed by his backers. He escapes in disguise and boards the Twentieth Century Limited train. He is accompanied by his two quirky assistants and it just so happens that Lily has boarded that same train. Jaffe sees it as a chance to make amends, but Lily will have nothing of it. They have some more frenzied confrontations on the train as Jaffe tries to convince her to star in his next project. In a last ditch effort he pretends to be deathly ill after a scuffle so that she will sign a contract in her distress. In the end she proves to truly care for him and once again they are back on Broadway, Lily Garland star extraordinaire, and Oscar Jaffe the domineering visionary. 

Along with It Happened One Night, this is one of the early examples of the screwball comedies. This was a perfect practice run at it for Howard Hawks who would direct the more well-known Bringing Up Baby in 1938. The leading performers are absolutely chaotic and over the top in their performances, but it’s the way it should be. Furthermore, like most screwball comedies the odd supporting characters are often a great source of laughs. The extended train sequence here reminded me somewhat of The Palm Beach Story another raucous film.
4/5 Stars

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