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TWENTIETH CENTURY(director: Howard Hawks; screenwriters: Charles MacArthurBen Hecht/from a play Napoleon on Broadway by Charles Bruce Millholland; cinematographer: Joseph August; editor: Gene Havlick; cast: John Barrymore (Oscar Jaffe/OJ), Carole Lombard (Lily Garland), Walter Connolly (Oliver Webb), Roscoe Karnes (Owen O’Malley), Ralph Forbes (George Smith), Charles Lane (Max Jacobs), Etienne Girardot (Mathew J. Clark), Dale Fuller (Sadie), Edgar Kennedy (Oscar McGonigle), Billie Seward (Anita), Herman Bing (Beard #1), Lee Kohlmar (Beard #2), Charles Levison (Max Jacobs); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard Hawks; Columbia Pictures; 1934)
“One of the sharpest ever comedy film scripts is turned in by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Howard Hawks (“Man’s Favorite Sport?”/”A Song is Born”/”Scarface”) directs this snappy screwball comedy built around a backstage farce and makes it move as quickly as a speeding train, which happens to be where most of it is set. It’s based on Charles Bruce Millholland’s hit play Napoleon on Broadway. One of the sharpest ever comedy film scripts is turned in by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht. The part of the flamboyant and suicidal producer is a tailor-made role for John Barrymore to such an extent that it verges on self-parody, while costar Carole Lombard proves she also has a gift for hysterical sophisticated comedy and makes a good match for Barrymore.

Tempermental, pompous, possessive, eccentric and egomaniacal theater impressario Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) changes the name of his latest discovery, former lingerie model Mildred Plotka, to Lily Garland (Carole Lombard), and after giving the gauche lady acting lessons she becomes an instant stage star. After five straight hits, Lily can’t handle any more her Svengali’s manipulative behavior or his fits of jealousy, and she skips out on him for Hollywood. After a short time, OJ’s career is in decline while Lily has become a big movie star. Running out on creditors in the Windy City, OJ and his associates, the rummy press agent Owen O’Malley (Roscoe Karns) and the always perplexed business manager Oliver Webb (Walter Connolly), board the Twentieth Century train for NYC. OJ has to don a disguise to get aboard the flyer, as a detective was stationed there to arrest him. This prompts OJ to say “I never thought I could sink so low as to become an actor.” To the scheming trio’s delightful surprise, Lily is aboard and they spend their traveling time trying to hoodwink her into signing a Broadway contract with them. Also aboard is a harmless lunatic who escaped from the bughouse, Mathew J. Clark ( Etienne Girardot), who is plastering the train with religious stickers that say ‘Repent for the time is at hand’ and with illusions of being a tycoon is writing big checks that are worthless. OJ receives from Clark a check of $200,000 to back his newest Broadway play.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”