Twentieth Century


1h 31m 1934
Twentieth Century

Brief Synopsis

A tempestuous theatrical director tries to win back the star he created and then drove away.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Romance
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
May 11, 1934
Premiere Information
New York opening: 3 May 1934
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Twentieth Century by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (New York, 29 Dec 1932), as produced by George Abbott and Philip Dunning, and based on the unproduced play Napoleon of Broadway by Charles Bruce Millholland.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,189ft (9 reels)

Synopsis

Tempermental theater impressario Oscar Jaffe changes the name of his newest discovery, former lingerie model Mildred Plotka, to Lily Garland, and begins rehearsing his latest play. Oscar drives Lily hard in rehearsal, bullying her and even stabbing her with a pin to induce her to scream properly. His harsh tactics pay off, however, and Lily is a smash. On her opening night, Oscar humbly bids her farewell, saying that a true star belongs to no man. The insecure Lily falls for his act and begs him to stay with her. Thus begins their professional partnership, which breeds three tremendously successful plays in as many years as well as a tempestuous personal relationship. Lily, driven to distraction by Oscar's egotism and jealous possessiveness, wants to end their relationship, but collapses in tears after a fight in which he fakes a suicide attempt. The next morning, the repentant Oscar swears to her that he trusts her completely, but after she leaves for rehearsal, he calls a detective, Oscar McGonigle, and orders him to put Lily under surveillance, including reading her mail and tapping her phone. Time passes until, one afternoon, Lily does not attend rehearsal. Oliver Webb, Oscar's business manager, reports this to Oscar and tells him that he has asked a friend to trace the interference on Lily's phone line. While Oscar reacts hysterically, a battered and bruised McGonigle rushes in to report that Lily attacked him after discovering the phone tap and that she has taken a train to Hollywood, leaving Oscar and New York for good. Oscar almost suffers a nervous breakdown but recovers and attempts to build another unknown actress the way he did Lily. She does not possess Lily's magic, however, and Oscar's productions flop one by one. After a devastating failure in Chicago, Oscar, Oliver and Owen O'Malley, Oscar's press agent, narrowly avoid the sheriff and board the Twentieth Century train bound for New York. Oliver warns Oscar that his creditors are going to take away the Jaffe Theatre. Soon after, Owen discovers that Lily, whose great Hollywood success has turned her into a tempermental eccentric of Oscar's caliber, is on the train with her young boyfriend, George Smith. Owen and Oliver discuss asking Lily to return to Oscar in order to save the theater, and despite Oliver's trepidations, they go to her and hand her a sob story about Oscar's woes. George becomes jealous and throws them out for upsetting Lily, who refuses to work with Oscar again. Oscar is pleased when told later that Lily is on the train but becomes dismayed when he sees George kissing her. While Oscar plots against George, the conductors apprehend Matthew J. Clark, an odd little man who has been placing "Repent Now" stickers on the train and its passengers. The conductors have received a wire from Clark's nephew stating that Clark, while harmless, is a lunatic who writes bad checks. Meanwhile, Oscar meets two European actors who are the stars of the Passion Play, and decides to produce the play in New York with Lily starring as Mary Magdalene. Oliver searches to find a backer for Oscar's Passion Play and comes up with Clark, who agrees to invest his pretended wealth. Meanwhile, Lily asks George to elope, but he rejects her and storms out after Oscar comes in and tells him that he was once Lily's lover. Contented that he has now gotten rid of George, Oscar proceeds to woo Lily by describing the role of Mary Magdalene. She is not taken in by his extravagant musings, however, and tells him that she is going to New York to sign with Max Jacobs, Oscar's former stage manager who is now a successful producer. Lily throws Oscar out, but he becomes optimistic again when Clark presents him with a check for $250,000. Soon after, everyone concerned finds out the truth about Clark, and Lily and Oscar try to outdo each other with their histrionic fits. Later that night, Oscar yet again plays at suicide in front of Oliver and Owen. They leave in disgust but rush back after hearing a gun shot, the result of a struggle between Clark and Oscar for the gun. Oscar receives only a slight flesh wound, but, with Owen and Oliver's help, uses it as a ploy to convince Lily that he is dying. Lily, who truly loves the rascal, agrees to sign Oscar's contract, with which he wishes to be buried. Oscar revives immediately and, at their first rehearsal of their new play, he treats her exactly as he had years earlier.

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Movie Clip

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Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Romance
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
May 11, 1934
Premiere Information
New York opening: 3 May 1934
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Twentieth Century by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (New York, 29 Dec 1932), as produced by George Abbott and Philip Dunning, and based on the unproduced play Napoleon of Broadway by Charles Bruce Millholland.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,189ft (9 reels)

Articles

The Essentials-Twentieth Century


SYNOPSIS

Chorus girl Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) is transformed from a nobody into Broadway star Lily Garland under the tutelage of egomaniacal theatrical impresario Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore), but rebels over Oscar's Svengali-like dominance over her life. When Oscar goes so far as to hire a private detective (Edgar Kennedy) to follow her every move, Lily runs away to Hollywood, where she becomes a movie star. Without his No. 1 attraction, Oscar's theatrical projects fail miserably and he quickly goes bankrupt. As luck would have it, both Lily and Oscar - along with his stooges (Roscoe Karns and Walter Connolly) and her fiancé (Ralph Forbes) - board the Twentieth Century in Chicago, bound for New York. As Oscar tries to talk Lily into playing Mary Magdalene in his new theatrical project, The Passion Play, pandemonium ensues among the trainload of eccentric characters.

Director: Howard Hawks
Producers: Howard Hawks, Harry Cohn
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur (from their play), Gene Fowler (uncredited), Preston Sturges (uncredited), Charles Bruce Millholland (play Napoleon of Broadway)
Cinematography: Joseph H. August
Editing: Gene Havlick
Production Management: Samuel J. Briskin
Music: Howard Jackson, Louis Silvers, Harry M. Woods
Costume Design: Robert Kalloch (uncredited)
Cast: John Barrymore (Oscar Jaffe), Carole Lombard (Lily Garland, aka Mildred Plotka), Walter Connolly (Oliver Webb), Roscoe Karns (Owen O'Malley), Ralph Forbes (George Smith), Charles Lane (Max Jacobs, aka Max Mandelbaum), Etienne Girardot (Mathew J. Clark), Dale Fuller (Sadie), Edgar Kennedy (Oscar McGonigle), Billie Seward (Anita)

Why TWENTIETH CENTURY Is Essential

Howard Hawks's Twentieth Century is required viewing because, along with Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (same year - 1934; same studio - Columbia), this was the film that defined screwball comedy and sparked a craze for the genre that would continue throughout the '30s. Born of the Depression, the genre kidded the privileged class by making them seem more than a little crazy, and their antics were enacted by madly stylish actors moving at a furious pace through often ridiculous situations. This was the film in which Hawks introduced what would become a trademark style of delivering comic dialogue - at breakneck speed, barely pausing to take a breath. Director Hawks also took credit for turning a movie's romantic leads into out-and-out comics for the first time; and, indeed, in Twentieth Century John Barrymore and Carole Lombard clown their way through a pair of the funniest and most entertaining star turns of the 1930s. It was his final great film performance, and her first. Barrymore's over-the-top style may be seen as an influence in such later performers as Peter Sellers, Steve Martin and Robin Williams. Lombard emerged as a genuine star in this film, and in the short period before her untimely death in 1942 would establish herself as the personification of glamorous screwball comedy. It's said that TV sitcom queen Lucille Ball adored Lombard and patterned her own comic persona on that of her idol. Both the rapid-fire dialogue and madcap behavior of this film would echo through countless other screwball classics including My Man Godfrey (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), The Lady Eve (1941) and Hawks's own Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) and Ball of Fire (1941).

By Roger Fristoe
The Essentials-Twentieth Century

The Essentials-Twentieth Century

SYNOPSIS Chorus girl Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) is transformed from a nobody into Broadway star Lily Garland under the tutelage of egomaniacal theatrical impresario Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore), but rebels over Oscar's Svengali-like dominance over her life. When Oscar goes so far as to hire a private detective (Edgar Kennedy) to follow her every move, Lily runs away to Hollywood, where she becomes a movie star. Without his No. 1 attraction, Oscar's theatrical projects fail miserably and he quickly goes bankrupt. As luck would have it, both Lily and Oscar - along with his stooges (Roscoe Karns and Walter Connolly) and her fiancé (Ralph Forbes) - board the Twentieth Century in Chicago, bound for New York. As Oscar tries to talk Lily into playing Mary Magdalene in his new theatrical project, The Passion Play, pandemonium ensues among the trainload of eccentric characters. Director: Howard Hawks Producers: Howard Hawks, Harry Cohn Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur (from their play), Gene Fowler (uncredited), Preston Sturges (uncredited), Charles Bruce Millholland (play Napoleon of Broadway) Cinematography: Joseph H. August Editing: Gene Havlick Production Management: Samuel J. Briskin Music: Howard Jackson, Louis Silvers, Harry M. Woods Costume Design: Robert Kalloch (uncredited) Cast: John Barrymore (Oscar Jaffe), Carole Lombard (Lily Garland, aka Mildred Plotka), Walter Connolly (Oliver Webb), Roscoe Karns (Owen O'Malley), Ralph Forbes (George Smith), Charles Lane (Max Jacobs, aka Max Mandelbaum), Etienne Girardot (Mathew J. Clark), Dale Fuller (Sadie), Edgar Kennedy (Oscar McGonigle), Billie Seward (Anita) Why TWENTIETH CENTURY Is Essential Howard Hawks's Twentieth Century is required viewing because, along with Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (same year - 1934; same studio - Columbia), this was the film that defined screwball comedy and sparked a craze for the genre that would continue throughout the '30s. Born of the Depression, the genre kidded the privileged class by making them seem more than a little crazy, and their antics were enacted by madly stylish actors moving at a furious pace through often ridiculous situations. This was the film in which Hawks introduced what would become a trademark style of delivering comic dialogue - at breakneck speed, barely pausing to take a breath. Director Hawks also took credit for turning a movie's romantic leads into out-and-out comics for the first time; and, indeed, in Twentieth Century John Barrymore and Carole Lombard clown their way through a pair of the funniest and most entertaining star turns of the 1930s. It was his final great film performance, and her first. Barrymore's over-the-top style may be seen as an influence in such later performers as Peter Sellers, Steve Martin and Robin Williams. Lombard emerged as a genuine star in this film, and in the short period before her untimely death in 1942 would establish herself as the personification of glamorous screwball comedy. It's said that TV sitcom queen Lucille Ball adored Lombard and patterned her own comic persona on that of her idol. Both the rapid-fire dialogue and madcap behavior of this film would echo through countless other screwball classics including My Man Godfrey (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), The Lady Eve (1941) and Hawks's own Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) and Ball of Fire (1941). By Roger Fristoe

Pop Culture 101-Twentieth Century


This story as enacted in various film, stage and television productions offers the defining example of archetypal characters - the clashing romantic couple who are absolutely and exclusively of the theater, and who live their lives at the fever pitch of melodrama and farce. The Hecht/MacArthur play has been revived on Broadway twice, once in 1950 with Jose Ferrer directing himself and Gloria Swanson in the leads, with Werner Klemperer and Edward Platt in supporting roles; and in 2004 by the Roundabout Theatre Company, with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche heading a cast that also included Tom Aldredge and Dan Butler. The latter production received Tony Award nominations for Heche and Aldredge. The play was performed on television in 1949 by Fredric March and Lilli Palmer, in 1953 by Fred Clark and Constance Bennett and in 1956 with the unlikely combination of Orson Welles and Betty Grable. More than 40 years after the release of the film, on February 19, 1978, the tale was revived as a Broadway musical, On the 20th Century, starring John Cullum, Madeline Kahn, Kevin Kline and Imogene Coca. The production, directed by Harold Prince, played for 449 performances and won five Tony awards in the musical category including those for Best Book and Score, Best Actor (John Cullum) and Featured Actor (Kevin Kline). The show was staged in London in 1980 with Keith Mitchell and Julia McKenzie, and revived there in 2010 with Howard Samuels and Rebecca Vere. Kristin Chenoweth and Hugh Jackman have performed a public reading of the musical, and Chenoweth has expressed hopes of bringing it back to Broadway soon.

By Roger Fristoe

Pop Culture 101-Twentieth Century

This story as enacted in various film, stage and television productions offers the defining example of archetypal characters - the clashing romantic couple who are absolutely and exclusively of the theater, and who live their lives at the fever pitch of melodrama and farce. The Hecht/MacArthur play has been revived on Broadway twice, once in 1950 with Jose Ferrer directing himself and Gloria Swanson in the leads, with Werner Klemperer and Edward Platt in supporting roles; and in 2004 by the Roundabout Theatre Company, with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche heading a cast that also included Tom Aldredge and Dan Butler. The latter production received Tony Award nominations for Heche and Aldredge. The play was performed on television in 1949 by Fredric March and Lilli Palmer, in 1953 by Fred Clark and Constance Bennett and in 1956 with the unlikely combination of Orson Welles and Betty Grable. More than 40 years after the release of the film, on February 19, 1978, the tale was revived as a Broadway musical, On the 20th Century, starring John Cullum, Madeline Kahn, Kevin Kline and Imogene Coca. The production, directed by Harold Prince, played for 449 performances and won five Tony awards in the musical category including those for Best Book and Score, Best Actor (John Cullum) and Featured Actor (Kevin Kline). The show was staged in London in 1980 with Keith Mitchell and Julia McKenzie, and revived there in 2010 with Howard Samuels and Rebecca Vere. Kristin Chenoweth and Hugh Jackman have performed a public reading of the musical, and Chenoweth has expressed hopes of bringing it back to Broadway soon. By Roger Fristoe

Trivia-Twentieth Century - Trivia & Fun Facts About TWENTIETH CENTURY


Anglo/French actor Etienne Girardot, who plays the man who goes around the train holding "Repent!" signs, was the only actor from the original Broadway cast to appear in the film.

Columbia also had attempted to acquire the services of William Frawley, who played Jaffe sidekick Owen O'Malley on Broadway, but instead borrowed Roscoe Karns from Paramount.

The film's opening musical theme is the same waltz Columbia had used for its big screwball hit of the same year, It Happened One Night (1934).

Howard Hawks and Carole Lombard were second cousins.

Noted German actors Herman Bing and Lee Kohlmar have uncredited bits as Passion Players from Oberammergau.

Quotes from Twentieth Century:

"Now, before we begin I want you all to remember one thing. No matter what I may say... no matter what I may do on this stage during our work... I love you all." - Oscar Jaffe

"Get out of my theater, you gray rat! And don't have that fat wife of yours come around again, pleading for you!" - Oscar

"You squalling little amateur. On your feet! Get up! Take that hump out of your back. You're not demonstrating underwear anymore!" - Oscar

"What do you know about talent? What do you know about the theatre? What do you know about genius? What do you know about anything, you... bookkeeper!" - Oscar

"O.J., suppose - just hypothetically, of course - that you, Mr. Bromo, could get together again with Miss Seltzer." -- Oliver Webb

"Go on, Owen... tell her I'm dying... and DON'T OVERACT!" - Oscar

"I never thought I should sink so low as to become an actor!" - Oscar

"Yes, I tried to save you pain. I lied, yes, only to save you." - Lily Garland
"That's from Sappho!" - Oscar

"Oh, an artist!" - George Smith
"You're darned tooting I am!" - Lily

"Oscar, you're complete: the most horrible excuse for a human being that ever walked on two legs." - Lily

"Love blinded me. That was the trouble between us as producer and artist." - Oscar
"So that's what it was, was it? How about your name in electric lights bigger than everybody's, and your delusion that you were a Shakespeare and a Napoleon and a Grand Lama of Tibet all rolled into one?" - Lily

"Those movies you were in! It's sacrilege throwing you away on things like that. When I left that movie house, I felt some magnificent ruby had been thrown into a platter of lard." - Oscar

"To John Ringling: I'm in the market for 25 camels, several elephants, and an ibis... Give me the rock-bottom price." - Oscar

"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." - Lily

"He won't shoot himself. It would please too many people." - Oliver Webb

"I close the iron door on you." - Oscar

Trivia-Twentieth Century - Trivia & Fun Facts About TWENTIETH CENTURY

Anglo/French actor Etienne Girardot, who plays the man who goes around the train holding "Repent!" signs, was the only actor from the original Broadway cast to appear in the film. Columbia also had attempted to acquire the services of William Frawley, who played Jaffe sidekick Owen O'Malley on Broadway, but instead borrowed Roscoe Karns from Paramount. The film's opening musical theme is the same waltz Columbia had used for its big screwball hit of the same year, It Happened One Night (1934). Howard Hawks and Carole Lombard were second cousins. Noted German actors Herman Bing and Lee Kohlmar have uncredited bits as Passion Players from Oberammergau. Quotes from Twentieth Century: "Now, before we begin I want you all to remember one thing. No matter what I may say... no matter what I may do on this stage during our work... I love you all." - Oscar Jaffe "Get out of my theater, you gray rat! And don't have that fat wife of yours come around again, pleading for you!" - Oscar "You squalling little amateur. On your feet! Get up! Take that hump out of your back. You're not demonstrating underwear anymore!" - Oscar "What do you know about talent? What do you know about the theatre? What do you know about genius? What do you know about anything, you... bookkeeper!" - Oscar "O.J., suppose - just hypothetically, of course - that you, Mr. Bromo, could get together again with Miss Seltzer." -- Oliver Webb "Go on, Owen... tell her I'm dying... and DON'T OVERACT!" - Oscar "I never thought I should sink so low as to become an actor!" - Oscar "Yes, I tried to save you pain. I lied, yes, only to save you." - Lily Garland "That's from Sappho!" - Oscar "Oh, an artist!" - George Smith "You're darned tooting I am!" - Lily "Oscar, you're complete: the most horrible excuse for a human being that ever walked on two legs." - Lily "Love blinded me. That was the trouble between us as producer and artist." - Oscar "So that's what it was, was it? How about your name in electric lights bigger than everybody's, and your delusion that you were a Shakespeare and a Napoleon and a Grand Lama of Tibet all rolled into one?" - Lily "Those movies you were in! It's sacrilege throwing you away on things like that. When I left that movie house, I felt some magnificent ruby had been thrown into a platter of lard." - Oscar "To John Ringling: I'm in the market for 25 camels, several elephants, and an ibis... Give me the rock-bottom price." - Oscar "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." - Lily "He won't shoot himself. It would please too many people." - Oliver Webb "I close the iron door on you." - Oscar

The Big Idea-Twentieth Century


This enduring comedy began life as an unproduced play, Napoleon of Broadway, written by Charles B. Millholland and inspired by his experiences with such flamboyant impresarios as David Belasco and Morris Gest. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur used it as the basis for their Broadway hit Twentieth Century, which opened at New York's Broadhurst Theatre on December 29, 1932, and ran for 152 performances. Moffat Johnston and Eugenie Leontovich starred as Oscar and Lily, and William Frawley (later to gain television fame in I Love Lucy) played a featured role.

In November 1933 Columbia hired Preston Sturges to write a screen treatment, but removed him from the project for lack of progress. The studio also tried to get Herman Mankiewicz to write a script before turning to the play's authors, who were also accomplished screenwriters. Adapting their own script made Twentieth Century a very profitable project for Hecht and MacArthur, who were paid $25,000 for rights to the play and another $14,525 for the adaptation. As the screenplay was being written, the studio assigned first Roy Del Ruth and then Lewis Milestone to direct, before finally turning the project over to Howard Hawks. Hawks worked with the authors in reshaping their play, especially in turning the leading female character from an imperious Broadway diva into a "Sadie Glutz" from Third Avenue. After hashing out changes in the script, Hawks and MacArthur would play backgammon while Hecht retired to type them up. This was Hawks' first talkie comedy and his first "screwball," predating his other classics of the genre, Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) and Ball of Fire (1941).

John Barrymore had begun to falter because of drink and high living, and Hawks saw an opportunity here for the great dramatic actor and matinee idol to revive his career by going for the gusto in over-the-top comedy. Hawks told interviewer John McBride that, when he met with Barrymore to discuss the role, the actor asked, "Mr. Hawks, just why do you think I would be good in this picture?" Hawks replied, "It's the story of the greatest ham in the world, and God knows you fit that!" Barrymore, the most famous Hamlet of his generation, didn't even read the script before saying, "I'll do the picture." He would later say he considered Oscar to be "a role that comes once in a lifetime" and claimed Twentieth Century as his favorite among all the films in which he appeared.

The daring part of the casting was matching Barrymore with a young actress who was becoming fairly well known, but basically for her good looks and a flair for wearing glamorous clothes. Carole Lombard was under contract to Paramount, where she had performed earnestly in mild comedies and dramas. Before she was cast in Twentieth Century, Columbia head Harry Cohn considered Eugenie Leontovich, who had played the role on Broadway, along with Gloria Swanson and Miriam Hopkins. Others said to be in the running included Ina Claire, Tallulah Bankhead, Ruth Chatterton, Constance Bennett, Ann Harding, Kay Francis and Joan Crawford.

Hawks, who had been impressed by Lombard's uninhibited verve in social situations, held out for her as Lily. He believed that she was a major talent whose comic abilities were just waiting to be tapped. Finally, Cohn reluctantly agreed to borrow her from Paramount. Hawks is said to have told Barrymore that Lombard could be a sensation in their film - if only they could keep her from "acting."

In addition to Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns as Jaffe's factotums, the supporting cast includes Charles Lane as a rival director, Edgar Kennedy as the private eye on Lily's trail and Etienne Girardot as a little madman who urges everyone to "Repent!" Smoothly handsome English actor Ralph Forbes was cast against type as Lily's spoiled, cloddish husband.

By Roger Fristoe

The Big Idea-Twentieth Century

This enduring comedy began life as an unproduced play, Napoleon of Broadway, written by Charles B. Millholland and inspired by his experiences with such flamboyant impresarios as David Belasco and Morris Gest. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur used it as the basis for their Broadway hit Twentieth Century, which opened at New York's Broadhurst Theatre on December 29, 1932, and ran for 152 performances. Moffat Johnston and Eugenie Leontovich starred as Oscar and Lily, and William Frawley (later to gain television fame in I Love Lucy) played a featured role. In November 1933 Columbia hired Preston Sturges to write a screen treatment, but removed him from the project for lack of progress. The studio also tried to get Herman Mankiewicz to write a script before turning to the play's authors, who were also accomplished screenwriters. Adapting their own script made Twentieth Century a very profitable project for Hecht and MacArthur, who were paid $25,000 for rights to the play and another $14,525 for the adaptation. As the screenplay was being written, the studio assigned first Roy Del Ruth and then Lewis Milestone to direct, before finally turning the project over to Howard Hawks. Hawks worked with the authors in reshaping their play, especially in turning the leading female character from an imperious Broadway diva into a "Sadie Glutz" from Third Avenue. After hashing out changes in the script, Hawks and MacArthur would play backgammon while Hecht retired to type them up. This was Hawks' first talkie comedy and his first "screwball," predating his other classics of the genre, Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) and Ball of Fire (1941). John Barrymore had begun to falter because of drink and high living, and Hawks saw an opportunity here for the great dramatic actor and matinee idol to revive his career by going for the gusto in over-the-top comedy. Hawks told interviewer John McBride that, when he met with Barrymore to discuss the role, the actor asked, "Mr. Hawks, just why do you think I would be good in this picture?" Hawks replied, "It's the story of the greatest ham in the world, and God knows you fit that!" Barrymore, the most famous Hamlet of his generation, didn't even read the script before saying, "I'll do the picture." He would later say he considered Oscar to be "a role that comes once in a lifetime" and claimed Twentieth Century as his favorite among all the films in which he appeared. The daring part of the casting was matching Barrymore with a young actress who was becoming fairly well known, but basically for her good looks and a flair for wearing glamorous clothes. Carole Lombard was under contract to Paramount, where she had performed earnestly in mild comedies and dramas. Before she was cast in Twentieth Century, Columbia head Harry Cohn considered Eugenie Leontovich, who had played the role on Broadway, along with Gloria Swanson and Miriam Hopkins. Others said to be in the running included Ina Claire, Tallulah Bankhead, Ruth Chatterton, Constance Bennett, Ann Harding, Kay Francis and Joan Crawford. Hawks, who had been impressed by Lombard's uninhibited verve in social situations, held out for her as Lily. He believed that she was a major talent whose comic abilities were just waiting to be tapped. Finally, Cohn reluctantly agreed to borrow her from Paramount. Hawks is said to have told Barrymore that Lombard could be a sensation in their film - if only they could keep her from "acting." In addition to Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns as Jaffe's factotums, the supporting cast includes Charles Lane as a rival director, Edgar Kennedy as the private eye on Lily's trail and Etienne Girardot as a little madman who urges everyone to "Repent!" Smoothly handsome English actor Ralph Forbes was cast against type as Lily's spoiled, cloddish husband. By Roger Fristoe

Behind the Camera-Twentieth Century


The movie was in production from February 22 to March 24, 1934. Consideration was given to changing the title because Columbia feared that many in the country would not understand its reference to the train, a Chicago-New York express. But Twentieth Century the film remained. The train itself becomes an important visual motif, standing for modernity, speed and change, hurtling forward as the movie's plot does the same.

As Barrymore settled in to work on his scenes with Lombard, he would look askance at director Hawks as if to say, "This isn't working out." Occasionally, in reaction to Lombard's competent but rather stilted work, he would even hold his nose. So Hawks took his actress for a little walk and asked her how much she was being paid to make the film. When she told him her salary was $2,000 he said, "What would you say if I told you you'd earned your whole salary this morning and don't have to act anymore?" She was stunned, and began to realize that what he wanted from her was her own free-wheeling spontaneity, not something studied and prepared.

According to legend, Hawks then asked Lombard what she would do if someone in real life said something awful about her, offering her an inflammatory example of such scandalous talk. Lombard's response: "Why, I'd kick him where it hurts the most!" "Well, Barrymore said that about you," Hawks replied. "So why don't you kick him?" They returned to the set and Lombard and Barrymore began to play the scene, with Hawks training three cameras on them. She took a hard kick at him, and as he continued in his lines she sat down but continued kicking. Barrymore stalked out in character to end the scene but quickly came back in to say, "That was magnificent! Have you been kidding me?"

Sound man Edward Bernds later confirmed that Lombard grasped Hawks' intent right away and "was great from the first day." Once she had let loose there was no stopping her, and she went on to become the "screwball bombshell" of 1930s comedy - sexy and beautiful and uniquely spirited. For the rest of her career, before beginning work on a film, Lombard would always send a wire to Hawks saying, "I'm going to kick him!"

As filming progressed, Barrymore grew ever more appreciative of Lombard's quicksilver talent, and the two became good friends. He was very supportive of her work and, at the end of filming, gave her an autographed photo that read, "To the finest actress I have worked with, bar none." Barrymore's career was going into decline as Lombard's was rising; Twentieth Century was his final big star vehicle in films, and the last movie in which she was relegated to costar billing. In the fall of 1937, after Lombard had become one of filmdom's leading players, with salary and clout to match, she would demand that Paramount hire Barrymore for a supporting role in her film True Confession, and that he be given third billing behind her and Fred MacMurray.

Howard Hawks had signed a three-picture deal with MGM in 1933 and claimed that he made Twentieth Century at Columbia while on a "paid vacation" from the other studio. "I got Barrymore and Lombard and made the picture in three weeks' time," Hawks boasted to an interviewer. In truth, however, shooting continued through another week due to the director's habit of drilling his cast in their lines and demanding retakes to get the rapid-fire delivery he wanted. Twentieth Century was the first film in which Hawks pushed this technique to its limit - and a prime example of its effect, though it certainly can be seen in his later comedies.

This was something new in the handling of a movie's dialogue, and Hawks acknowledged that it created "a completely high-pressure picture. It isn't done with cutting or anything. It's done by deliberately writing dialogue like real conversation... It's just a trick. It's also a trick getting people to do it - it takes two or three days to get them accustomed to it, and then they're off... You have to hear just the essential things. You have to tell the sound man what lines he must hear and he must let you know if he does. This also allows you to do throwaways - it keeps an actor from hitting a line too hard and it sounds much funnier." Hawks sometimes found that, in throwing themselves into this technique, his actors spoke so quickly that even he couldn't understand what they were saying!

Hawks allowed Barrymore and Lombard to improvise freely during filming. "When people are as good as those two, the idea of just sticking to lines is rather ridiculous," he told Peter Bogdanovich in an interview. "Because if Barrymore gets going, and he had the ability to do it, I'd just say, 'Go do it.' And Lombard would answer him; she was such a character, just marvelous." Hawks then told a story about Lombard coming to him one day to complain about studio head Harry Cohn making passes at her. Between them, director and star worked out a plan to embarrass their boss. Hawks was in Cohn's office, having a serious discussion with him, when Lombard burst in to exclaim, "I've decided to say yes!" As Cohn watched in shock, she made as if to begin removing her clothes. Hawks said self-righteously, "I'd better get out of here if this is the kind of studio you run." A shaken Cohn asked Lombard to leave, and she never had any further problems with him.

Hawks said later that he lost one day of shooting because of Barrymore's drinking - but the actor volunteered to work two days for free to make up for his delinquency. He was generally a model of cooperation, taking direction well while also making suggestions of his own about adding to the comedy of the film. He devised the Kentucky Colonel disguise Jaffe uses to sneak aboard the train, and invented comic bits of business involving the nose putty he used.

There were some problems with the censors during the filming of Twentieth Century, with industry watchdogs made nervous about religious angles in the film's humor. Joseph Breen, who ran the Hays Office, predicted "serious difficulty in inducing an anti-Semitic public to accept a [motion picture] play produced by an industry believed to be Jewish in which the Passion Play is used for comedy purposes." One line from this sequence was removed at Breen's request, and the Office also requested that it be made "less clear" exactly where Oscar jabs Lily with a pin during one of their skirmishes.

Twentieth Century was given its premiere in New York City on May 3, 1934, and went into general release on May 11. Although critical evaluation was generally positive, Variety's prediction that the film was "probably too smart for general consumption" proved all too true. Box office at Radio City Music Hall was so lackluster that the film lasted only one week there, and business was slow throughout the country, although it did build with time. "The public wasn't ready for seeing two stars act like comedians the way those two did," Hawks acknowledged. Even so, Lombard so impressed those in the industry with her work that the movie turned her into a top comedienne and major star.

By Roger Fristoe

Behind the Camera-Twentieth Century

The movie was in production from February 22 to March 24, 1934. Consideration was given to changing the title because Columbia feared that many in the country would not understand its reference to the train, a Chicago-New York express. But Twentieth Century the film remained. The train itself becomes an important visual motif, standing for modernity, speed and change, hurtling forward as the movie's plot does the same. As Barrymore settled in to work on his scenes with Lombard, he would look askance at director Hawks as if to say, "This isn't working out." Occasionally, in reaction to Lombard's competent but rather stilted work, he would even hold his nose. So Hawks took his actress for a little walk and asked her how much she was being paid to make the film. When she told him her salary was $2,000 he said, "What would you say if I told you you'd earned your whole salary this morning and don't have to act anymore?" She was stunned, and began to realize that what he wanted from her was her own free-wheeling spontaneity, not something studied and prepared. According to legend, Hawks then asked Lombard what she would do if someone in real life said something awful about her, offering her an inflammatory example of such scandalous talk. Lombard's response: "Why, I'd kick him where it hurts the most!" "Well, Barrymore said that about you," Hawks replied. "So why don't you kick him?" They returned to the set and Lombard and Barrymore began to play the scene, with Hawks training three cameras on them. She took a hard kick at him, and as he continued in his lines she sat down but continued kicking. Barrymore stalked out in character to end the scene but quickly came back in to say, "That was magnificent! Have you been kidding me?" Sound man Edward Bernds later confirmed that Lombard grasped Hawks' intent right away and "was great from the first day." Once she had let loose there was no stopping her, and she went on to become the "screwball bombshell" of 1930s comedy - sexy and beautiful and uniquely spirited. For the rest of her career, before beginning work on a film, Lombard would always send a wire to Hawks saying, "I'm going to kick him!" As filming progressed, Barrymore grew ever more appreciative of Lombard's quicksilver talent, and the two became good friends. He was very supportive of her work and, at the end of filming, gave her an autographed photo that read, "To the finest actress I have worked with, bar none." Barrymore's career was going into decline as Lombard's was rising; Twentieth Century was his final big star vehicle in films, and the last movie in which she was relegated to costar billing. In the fall of 1937, after Lombard had become one of filmdom's leading players, with salary and clout to match, she would demand that Paramount hire Barrymore for a supporting role in her film True Confession, and that he be given third billing behind her and Fred MacMurray. Howard Hawks had signed a three-picture deal with MGM in 1933 and claimed that he made Twentieth Century at Columbia while on a "paid vacation" from the other studio. "I got Barrymore and Lombard and made the picture in three weeks' time," Hawks boasted to an interviewer. In truth, however, shooting continued through another week due to the director's habit of drilling his cast in their lines and demanding retakes to get the rapid-fire delivery he wanted. Twentieth Century was the first film in which Hawks pushed this technique to its limit - and a prime example of its effect, though it certainly can be seen in his later comedies. This was something new in the handling of a movie's dialogue, and Hawks acknowledged that it created "a completely high-pressure picture. It isn't done with cutting or anything. It's done by deliberately writing dialogue like real conversation... It's just a trick. It's also a trick getting people to do it - it takes two or three days to get them accustomed to it, and then they're off... You have to hear just the essential things. You have to tell the sound man what lines he must hear and he must let you know if he does. This also allows you to do throwaways - it keeps an actor from hitting a line too hard and it sounds much funnier." Hawks sometimes found that, in throwing themselves into this technique, his actors spoke so quickly that even he couldn't understand what they were saying! Hawks allowed Barrymore and Lombard to improvise freely during filming. "When people are as good as those two, the idea of just sticking to lines is rather ridiculous," he told Peter Bogdanovich in an interview. "Because if Barrymore gets going, and he had the ability to do it, I'd just say, 'Go do it.' And Lombard would answer him; she was such a character, just marvelous." Hawks then told a story about Lombard coming to him one day to complain about studio head Harry Cohn making passes at her. Between them, director and star worked out a plan to embarrass their boss. Hawks was in Cohn's office, having a serious discussion with him, when Lombard burst in to exclaim, "I've decided to say yes!" As Cohn watched in shock, she made as if to begin removing her clothes. Hawks said self-righteously, "I'd better get out of here if this is the kind of studio you run." A shaken Cohn asked Lombard to leave, and she never had any further problems with him. Hawks said later that he lost one day of shooting because of Barrymore's drinking - but the actor volunteered to work two days for free to make up for his delinquency. He was generally a model of cooperation, taking direction well while also making suggestions of his own about adding to the comedy of the film. He devised the Kentucky Colonel disguise Jaffe uses to sneak aboard the train, and invented comic bits of business involving the nose putty he used. There were some problems with the censors during the filming of Twentieth Century, with industry watchdogs made nervous about religious angles in the film's humor. Joseph Breen, who ran the Hays Office, predicted "serious difficulty in inducing an anti-Semitic public to accept a [motion picture] play produced by an industry believed to be Jewish in which the Passion Play is used for comedy purposes." One line from this sequence was removed at Breen's request, and the Office also requested that it be made "less clear" exactly where Oscar jabs Lily with a pin during one of their skirmishes. Twentieth Century was given its premiere in New York City on May 3, 1934, and went into general release on May 11. Although critical evaluation was generally positive, Variety's prediction that the film was "probably too smart for general consumption" proved all too true. Box office at Radio City Music Hall was so lackluster that the film lasted only one week there, and business was slow throughout the country, although it did build with time. "The public wasn't ready for seeing two stars act like comedians the way those two did," Hawks acknowledged. Even so, Lombard so impressed those in the industry with her work that the movie turned her into a top comedienne and major star. By Roger Fristoe

Critics' Corner-Twentieth Century


"Twentieth Century is good fun, slick, wild and improbable." - Time magazine

"As a vainglorious stage producer, John Barrymore is in fine fettle... And if it be said that it is his best performance since the one he gave in the film Reunion in Vienna [1933] it is by no means casting any reflections on his work in the interim but merely that here he has a role with which to conjure, one that calls for a definite characterization notwithstanding the farcical interludes. Even during the repetitious mad moments of the tale, Mr. Barrymore acts with such imagination and zest that he never fails to keep the picture thoroughly alive." - Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times

"Coolly intelligent and calculatedly alluring in former pictures, [Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century] vibrates with life and passion, abandon and diablerie." - The Los Angeles Times

"Hawks struck comic gold when he cast sexy Carole Lombard opposite the magnificent ham John Barrymore as feuding lovers. Two of Hollywood's most unbuttoned star personalities, Barrymore and Lombard make a stunning, slashing pair, screaming, insulting and even kicking each other all through this fiery tale..." - Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune, 1998

"Ace writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur contribute some wickedly witty dialogue, zingers so effortless we have to believe the authors' newspaper backgrounds were spent among people who actually talked in deadpan one-liners and arcane classical allusions. Viewers who relate John Barrymore only to Grand Hotel [1932] will be surprised to see him maintain a ridiculously overplayed theatrical ham without faltering once. As his emotionally spoiled star performer, the beautiful Carole Lombard is almost as manic." - Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant, 2005

"If you want to see Drew Barrymore's grandfather, the legendary Great Profile, and world-class star actor John Barrymore in his best movie performance...don't miss Howard Hawks' trend-setting show-business comedy... Right up there with him in comic genius - and a knockout in her own right - is the wondrous and unique Ms. Lombard, for whom the term for the movie genre screwball was coined..." - Peter Bogdanovich, 2010

Awards and Honors - TWENTIETH CENTURY

Named to the National Film Registry of the National Film Preservation Board, 2011.

Compiled by Roger Fristoe

Critics' Corner-Twentieth Century

"Twentieth Century is good fun, slick, wild and improbable." - Time magazine "As a vainglorious stage producer, John Barrymore is in fine fettle... And if it be said that it is his best performance since the one he gave in the film Reunion in Vienna [1933] it is by no means casting any reflections on his work in the interim but merely that here he has a role with which to conjure, one that calls for a definite characterization notwithstanding the farcical interludes. Even during the repetitious mad moments of the tale, Mr. Barrymore acts with such imagination and zest that he never fails to keep the picture thoroughly alive." - Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times "Coolly intelligent and calculatedly alluring in former pictures, [Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century] vibrates with life and passion, abandon and diablerie." - The Los Angeles Times "Hawks struck comic gold when he cast sexy Carole Lombard opposite the magnificent ham John Barrymore as feuding lovers. Two of Hollywood's most unbuttoned star personalities, Barrymore and Lombard make a stunning, slashing pair, screaming, insulting and even kicking each other all through this fiery tale..." - Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune, 1998 "Ace writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur contribute some wickedly witty dialogue, zingers so effortless we have to believe the authors' newspaper backgrounds were spent among people who actually talked in deadpan one-liners and arcane classical allusions. Viewers who relate John Barrymore only to Grand Hotel [1932] will be surprised to see him maintain a ridiculously overplayed theatrical ham without faltering once. As his emotionally spoiled star performer, the beautiful Carole Lombard is almost as manic." - Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant, 2005 "If you want to see Drew Barrymore's grandfather, the legendary Great Profile, and world-class star actor John Barrymore in his best movie performance...don't miss Howard Hawks' trend-setting show-business comedy... Right up there with him in comic genius - and a knockout in her own right - is the wondrous and unique Ms. Lombard, for whom the term for the movie genre screwball was coined..." - Peter Bogdanovich, 2010 Awards and Honors - TWENTIETH CENTURY Named to the National Film Registry of the National Film Preservation Board, 2011. Compiled by Roger Fristoe

Twentieth Century


Howard Hawks' rapid-fire farce Twentieth Century (1934), a comic collision of tempestuous personalities in the rarified world of Broadway, is the proto-screwball comedy. It's a genre born of the depression where the airs of the rich and sophisticated were deflated through madcap behavior and zany antics, all pitched at a breakneck pace. The elements of screwball had been kicking around the early sound era in the rat-a-tat pacing of the streetwise Warner Bros. pictures, the lampoons of the decadent rich in such films as Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde (1931), and the show-biz pictures like Morning Glory (1933) and What Price Hollywood? (1932), but it took Howard Hawks to combine them in this screen adaptation of the Broadway farce. Hawks was a director more known for his male-centric action movies than zany comedies; his early thirties hits include the war picture The Dawn Patrol (1930), the prison drama The Criminal Code (1931), the race track thriller The Crowd Roars (1932) and the original Scarface (1932), the quintessential gangster film of the era. Twentieth Century was his first comedy of the sound era, but his mix of frantic pacing, whiplash shifts in tone and devil-may-care direction of glamorous stars in wacky parts launched the defining comedy genre of the thirties.

John Barrymore, on the downhill slide of his career, zings through the film as the self-promoting Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, showing a comic mastery that Hollywood rarely tapped. Carole Lombard, a pretty but largely undistinguished clothes horse of a leading lady, revealed a knockabout facility for physical comedy and a flair for tempestuous characters as Lily Garland, a lingerie model pulled out of the department store runway and transformed into Jaffe's latest discovery. In Jaffe's first rehearsal of his new play, an insufferably hoary southern plantation melodrama, he enters with elegance and dignity, cooing his admiration for the theater and his respect for one and all gathered with paternal warmth, and then works himself up into a lather as a bullying tyrant spewing insulting tirades. The gambit brings out Lily's untapped passions and a star is born. She's Jaffe's discovery, his lover and, in his mind, his property, and his smothering jealousy finally drives her to leave him and try her luck in Hollywood. The result is stardom for Lily and disaster for Jaffe.

"I never thought I would sink so low as to become an actor," Jaffe moans (with typical melodramatic flair) after sneaking out of town under the flowing mustache and southern comfort drawl of a plantation gentleman. In fact he is always playing a part and always working an angle, as Lily well knows when she screams "You cheap ham!" at him after one-too-many of his fake gestures of suicide. She's half right. He's a gloriously overripe grade A ham, whether he's wooing, cajoling, berating, belittling or dismissing the people in his orbit, but he's anything but cheap. Which makes his run of post-Lily Garland flops all the more damaging. When he discovers that Lily is on the same train to New York, you can see his desperation in his exaggerated appearance - his hair stands up in a wild-man shock, his eyes bug out, his voice rises and falls with volcanic excitement – as he schemes to win Lily back for a career-resuscitating comeback production.

Twentieth Century had been a Broadway hit for Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, whose earlier stage comedy The Front Page was brought to the screen by Lewis Milestone. The comic collision between an egotistical and flamboyant theater producer (inspired by the real-life Broadway entrepreneurs Morris Gest and David Belasco) and his tempestuous grand dame of a star was developed for actor/director Gregory Ratoff and his wife, Eugenie Leontovich, and the battle of wills took place entirely in the train ride from Chicago to New York. Hawks made substantial changes from the Broadway play, shifting the character of Lily from a theatrical grand dame to Mildred Plotka, a star-struck model transformed into a Broadway success by Oscar Jaffe's scheming Svengali of a producer, and creating a whole new first act to chart the rise and fall of their professional and romantic relationship. With the blessing of Ratoff and the approval of the playwrights, Hawks left for New York and wrote the first draft with Hecht and MacArthur, batting ideas around and dictating their dialogue while fledgling producer Billy Rose (who reportedly was once a world champion in a shorthand competition) took it all down.

With this first draft in hand, Hawks set out to secure John Barrymore, once one of the most celebrated actors of the stage and the silent screen but now slipping into theatrical self-caricature on screen, due in part to his alcoholism. In an interview with Joseph McBride, Hawks described his meeting with Barrymore: "He said, 'Mr. Hawks, just why do you think I would be any good in this picture?' I said, 'It's the story of the greatest ham in the world, and God knows you fit that.' And he said, 'I'll do the picture.' He never even read it."

The daring was in pairing a virtual unknown young actress with a scene-stealing veteran ham, and it was magic. For the newly reworked part of Lily, Columbia studio head Harry Cohn wanted Tallulah Bankhead or Gloria Swanson, who both turned it down. The choice of Carole Lombard was a wild-card suggestion. The former Mack Sennett bathing beauty (and, coincidentally, Hawks' second cousin, a distant relation he had never really known well) had made a number of films but was considered as little more than a lovely but passive leading lady. Hawks cast her not on the strength of her career but the strength of the personality he saw emerge at a party, as she relaxed after a couple of drinks: "she was hilarious and uninhibited and just what the part needed." The trick was getting that uninhibited spirit onto the screen. The legendary story goes that Hawks asked her what she would do if someone in real life treated her as Barrymore's Jaffe does. "I'd kick him in the balls," she said, and Hawks told her to go right ahead. She let loose and this new Carole Lombard went on to become a sexy, funny leading lady, the screwball bombshell of thirties comedy.

Hawks claimed that he made Twentieth Century while on a paid vacation from MGM. Whether or not the story is true (Hawks was certainly a storyteller in every sense of the word and he had reason to paint his triumph in shades of revenge against MGM, where the independent-minded director chafed against the studio's tight production controls), Hawks did complete the film in what seemed like record time. "I got Barrymore and Lombard and we made the picture in three weeks' time," Hawks told McBride, though in fact the production went behind schedule in the final week and ran longer than Hawks remembers. The delay was due to Hawks' unconventional direction and the rehearsals and retakes needed as he drilled his cast to get that rapid-fire dialogue and overlapping delivery. This was the first picture that he tried this experiment and its success can be seen in numerous comedies (Bringing Up Baby [1938], His Girl Friday [1940]) and dramas (The Thing from Another World, 1951) he made after Twentieth Century.

The film was a solid success though not the smash everyone expected, yet its influence on the direction and style of film comedies of the thirties is incalculable. "I don't think John Barrymore ever made a complete idiot out of himself until he did Twentieth Century. They didn't have leading men and women make damn fools of themselves like they did in that picture." They certainly did afterwards. Carole Lombard cemented her comic stardom in My Man Godfrey (1936), playing a sweet but clueless child of wealth who adopts a homeless man as her "protégé," and stars like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn let their madcap impulses fly free in Hawks' defining screwball classic Bringing Up Baby. You can trace the genealogy of these films, as well as Nothing Sacred (1937), The Awful Truth (1937), Hawks' own His Girl Friday (1940, a battle of the sexes remake of The Front Page, 1931) and the glorious comedies of Preston Sturges, back to Twentieth Century, in spirit and attitude and sheer velocity if not outright inspiration

Producer: Howard Hawks
Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur (credited for screenplay but not for play); Charles Bruce Millholland (play "Napoleon of Broadway"); Gene Fowler (screenplay uncredited); Preston Sturges (uncredited)
Cinematography: Joseph August
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Cast: John Barrymore (Oscar Jaffe), Carole Lombard (Lily Garland), Walter Connolly (Oliver Webb), Roscoe Karns (Owen O'Malley), Ralph Forbes (George Smith), Charles Levison (Max Jacobs), Etienne Girardot (Mathew J. Clark); Dale Fuller (Sadie), Edgar Kennedy (Oscar McGonigle), Billie Seward (Anita)
BW-91m.

by Sean Axmaker

Twentieth Century

Howard Hawks' rapid-fire farce Twentieth Century (1934), a comic collision of tempestuous personalities in the rarified world of Broadway, is the proto-screwball comedy. It's a genre born of the depression where the airs of the rich and sophisticated were deflated through madcap behavior and zany antics, all pitched at a breakneck pace. The elements of screwball had been kicking around the early sound era in the rat-a-tat pacing of the streetwise Warner Bros. pictures, the lampoons of the decadent rich in such films as Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde (1931), and the show-biz pictures like Morning Glory (1933) and What Price Hollywood? (1932), but it took Howard Hawks to combine them in this screen adaptation of the Broadway farce. Hawks was a director more known for his male-centric action movies than zany comedies; his early thirties hits include the war picture The Dawn Patrol (1930), the prison drama The Criminal Code (1931), the race track thriller The Crowd Roars (1932) and the original Scarface (1932), the quintessential gangster film of the era. Twentieth Century was his first comedy of the sound era, but his mix of frantic pacing, whiplash shifts in tone and devil-may-care direction of glamorous stars in wacky parts launched the defining comedy genre of the thirties. John Barrymore, on the downhill slide of his career, zings through the film as the self-promoting Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, showing a comic mastery that Hollywood rarely tapped. Carole Lombard, a pretty but largely undistinguished clothes horse of a leading lady, revealed a knockabout facility for physical comedy and a flair for tempestuous characters as Lily Garland, a lingerie model pulled out of the department store runway and transformed into Jaffe's latest discovery. In Jaffe's first rehearsal of his new play, an insufferably hoary southern plantation melodrama, he enters with elegance and dignity, cooing his admiration for the theater and his respect for one and all gathered with paternal warmth, and then works himself up into a lather as a bullying tyrant spewing insulting tirades. The gambit brings out Lily's untapped passions and a star is born. She's Jaffe's discovery, his lover and, in his mind, his property, and his smothering jealousy finally drives her to leave him and try her luck in Hollywood. The result is stardom for Lily and disaster for Jaffe. "I never thought I would sink so low as to become an actor," Jaffe moans (with typical melodramatic flair) after sneaking out of town under the flowing mustache and southern comfort drawl of a plantation gentleman. In fact he is always playing a part and always working an angle, as Lily well knows when she screams "You cheap ham!" at him after one-too-many of his fake gestures of suicide. She's half right. He's a gloriously overripe grade A ham, whether he's wooing, cajoling, berating, belittling or dismissing the people in his orbit, but he's anything but cheap. Which makes his run of post-Lily Garland flops all the more damaging. When he discovers that Lily is on the same train to New York, you can see his desperation in his exaggerated appearance - his hair stands up in a wild-man shock, his eyes bug out, his voice rises and falls with volcanic excitement – as he schemes to win Lily back for a career-resuscitating comeback production. Twentieth Century had been a Broadway hit for Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, whose earlier stage comedy The Front Page was brought to the screen by Lewis Milestone. The comic collision between an egotistical and flamboyant theater producer (inspired by the real-life Broadway entrepreneurs Morris Gest and David Belasco) and his tempestuous grand dame of a star was developed for actor/director Gregory Ratoff and his wife, Eugenie Leontovich, and the battle of wills took place entirely in the train ride from Chicago to New York. Hawks made substantial changes from the Broadway play, shifting the character of Lily from a theatrical grand dame to Mildred Plotka, a star-struck model transformed into a Broadway success by Oscar Jaffe's scheming Svengali of a producer, and creating a whole new first act to chart the rise and fall of their professional and romantic relationship. With the blessing of Ratoff and the approval of the playwrights, Hawks left for New York and wrote the first draft with Hecht and MacArthur, batting ideas around and dictating their dialogue while fledgling producer Billy Rose (who reportedly was once a world champion in a shorthand competition) took it all down. With this first draft in hand, Hawks set out to secure John Barrymore, once one of the most celebrated actors of the stage and the silent screen but now slipping into theatrical self-caricature on screen, due in part to his alcoholism. In an interview with Joseph McBride, Hawks described his meeting with Barrymore: "He said, 'Mr. Hawks, just why do you think I would be any good in this picture?' I said, 'It's the story of the greatest ham in the world, and God knows you fit that.' And he said, 'I'll do the picture.' He never even read it." The daring was in pairing a virtual unknown young actress with a scene-stealing veteran ham, and it was magic. For the newly reworked part of Lily, Columbia studio head Harry Cohn wanted Tallulah Bankhead or Gloria Swanson, who both turned it down. The choice of Carole Lombard was a wild-card suggestion. The former Mack Sennett bathing beauty (and, coincidentally, Hawks' second cousin, a distant relation he had never really known well) had made a number of films but was considered as little more than a lovely but passive leading lady. Hawks cast her not on the strength of her career but the strength of the personality he saw emerge at a party, as she relaxed after a couple of drinks: "she was hilarious and uninhibited and just what the part needed." The trick was getting that uninhibited spirit onto the screen. The legendary story goes that Hawks asked her what she would do if someone in real life treated her as Barrymore's Jaffe does. "I'd kick him in the balls," she said, and Hawks told her to go right ahead. She let loose and this new Carole Lombard went on to become a sexy, funny leading lady, the screwball bombshell of thirties comedy. Hawks claimed that he made Twentieth Century while on a paid vacation from MGM. Whether or not the story is true (Hawks was certainly a storyteller in every sense of the word and he had reason to paint his triumph in shades of revenge against MGM, where the independent-minded director chafed against the studio's tight production controls), Hawks did complete the film in what seemed like record time. "I got Barrymore and Lombard and we made the picture in three weeks' time," Hawks told McBride, though in fact the production went behind schedule in the final week and ran longer than Hawks remembers. The delay was due to Hawks' unconventional direction and the rehearsals and retakes needed as he drilled his cast to get that rapid-fire dialogue and overlapping delivery. This was the first picture that he tried this experiment and its success can be seen in numerous comedies (Bringing Up Baby [1938], His Girl Friday [1940]) and dramas (The Thing from Another World, 1951) he made after Twentieth Century. The film was a solid success though not the smash everyone expected, yet its influence on the direction and style of film comedies of the thirties is incalculable. "I don't think John Barrymore ever made a complete idiot out of himself until he did Twentieth Century. They didn't have leading men and women make damn fools of themselves like they did in that picture." They certainly did afterwards. Carole Lombard cemented her comic stardom in My Man Godfrey (1936), playing a sweet but clueless child of wealth who adopts a homeless man as her "protégé," and stars like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn let their madcap impulses fly free in Hawks' defining screwball classic Bringing Up Baby. You can trace the genealogy of these films, as well as Nothing Sacred (1937), The Awful Truth (1937), Hawks' own His Girl Friday (1940, a battle of the sexes remake of The Front Page, 1931) and the glorious comedies of Preston Sturges, back to Twentieth Century, in spirit and attitude and sheer velocity if not outright inspiration Producer: Howard Hawks Director: Howard Hawks Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur (credited for screenplay but not for play); Charles Bruce Millholland (play "Napoleon of Broadway"); Gene Fowler (screenplay uncredited); Preston Sturges (uncredited) Cinematography: Joseph August Film Editing: Gene Havlick Cast: John Barrymore (Oscar Jaffe), Carole Lombard (Lily Garland), Walter Connolly (Oliver Webb), Roscoe Karns (Owen O'Malley), Ralph Forbes (George Smith), Charles Levison (Max Jacobs), Etienne Girardot (Mathew J. Clark); Dale Fuller (Sadie), Edgar Kennedy (Oscar McGonigle), Billie Seward (Anita) BW-91m. by Sean Axmaker

Twentieth Century on DVD


Twentieth Century and It Happened One Night aren't the only movies that might be called the first screwball comedies. But those 1934 Columbia Pictures releases are certainly the two most responsible for bringing the raucous strain of romantic comedy into vogue. While Frank Capra's It Happened One Night swept that year's Oscars® and has remained iconic, Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century was not even among that year's twelve Best Picture nominees and is not nearly so well-known today (despite inspiring the 1978 Broadway musical On the Twentieth Century). Although there's no sense in debating which movie is better - they're both genuine classics; Twentieth Century has some catching up to do, and hopefully the movie's new DVD release will help more people discover this influential comedy.

But being influential isn't half as important as being funny, colorful and stylish, and Twentieth Century is all of those things. Featuring outsized performances from John Barrymore and Carole Lombard as, respectively, a bombastic Broadway producer and the actress-lover who bolts from his grip after he turns her into a star, Twentieth Century exudes the most important philosophy of the screwball comedy: that the romantic leads could also be the comic relief. Not only could they knock each other down and put each other down, it was recommended. What better way to show the two lovers communicated in their own special way, apart from the rest of the world?

The screwball "battle of the sexes" really is a battle in Twentieth Century. Barrymore's imperious impresario Oscar Jaffe plucks lingerie model Mildred Plotka (Lombard) from obscurity, rechristening her Lily Garland and bringing out the talent that only he sees in her. The opening rehearsal sequence sets the tone for their relationship, with Jaffe overwhelming Lily by berating her and prodding her with a sharp pin in order to draw her emotions during the play's dramatic apex. When the movie soon cuts to three years later, Lily is a star of a series of Jaffe hits, but she's still being overwhelmed by him. He's not just her boss, he's also her possessive lover. "That's not love, it's pure tyranny!" she carps, before she reacts to Jaffe's latest ploy to gain sympathy by calling him a "cheap ham" (Lily dishes it out as well takes it, and this is Lombard's breakthrough role). When she finds out Jaffe has had a private eye (Edgar Kennedy) tapping her phone calls, she takes the first train to Hollywood and a successful career in pictures. As gesticulating, overdramatic Jaffe might say, "From now on, I close the iron door on you!" - his favorite arm-swinging declaration when firing his underlings, before inevitably rehiring them minutes later in a moment of need.

And Jaffe's moments of need deepen. Another jump in time reveals Lily to be a Hollywood star and Jaffe to be slumping badly. His new protegee is a bust, and his debt-laden latest production just barely escapes sheriff's warrants in Chicago, with Jaffe having to don a southern gentleman disguise to get past a deputy and onto a departing train. The movie is named for the once-famous Chicago-New York train the Twentieth Century Limited where, for the second half of the movie, Jaffe tries to con Lily into signing with him for a typically over-the-top production of The Passion Play (Barrymore's frantic portrayal of the production's action, including his imitation of the 100 camels Jaffe wants onstage, is not one you'll soon forget). Lily has unwittingly made the mistake of getting on the same train, and wants no part of the production. But Jaffe doesn't care what Lily wants.

Like a lot of great comedies, Twentieth Century builds its comedy patiently and steadily. It's in full swing by the time it reaches the train, and only accelerates more. There, a nutcase with a fondness for pasting religious stickers all over the train and passing bad checks (played by Etienne Girardot) becomes the instigator behind many of the laughs. But it's the central love-hate romance between Jaffe and Lily that pulses Twentieth Century. Adapting their own stage play, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur scripted the movie for director Hawks, years before Hawks would take their rough-and-tumble newspaper comedy The Front Page, change the gender of one of the leads and turn it into His Girl Friday, the fastest-paced of all the screwball romantic comedies (and three years before Hecht would give Lombard another signature role in Nothing Sacred). Twentieth Century is also a hint of the screwball heyday to come in its effective use of a raft of choice character actors, including Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns as Jaffe's long-suffering right-hand men (coincidentally, the two are also in It Happened One Night), Charles Levison (a/k/a Charles Lane), the aforementioned Kennedy and Fred "Snowflake" Toones.

Unfortunately, Twentieth Century comes to us from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has thus far shown little commitment to imaginatively repackaging its back catalog of movies for DVD. While it's easy to understand releasing a no-frills disc for a run-of-the-mill movie, for something as special as Twentieth Century that just seems like bad business.

For more information about Twentieth Century, visit Sony Pictures. To order Twentieth Century, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman

Twentieth Century on DVD

Twentieth Century and It Happened One Night aren't the only movies that might be called the first screwball comedies. But those 1934 Columbia Pictures releases are certainly the two most responsible for bringing the raucous strain of romantic comedy into vogue. While Frank Capra's It Happened One Night swept that year's Oscars® and has remained iconic, Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century was not even among that year's twelve Best Picture nominees and is not nearly so well-known today (despite inspiring the 1978 Broadway musical On the Twentieth Century). Although there's no sense in debating which movie is better - they're both genuine classics; Twentieth Century has some catching up to do, and hopefully the movie's new DVD release will help more people discover this influential comedy. But being influential isn't half as important as being funny, colorful and stylish, and Twentieth Century is all of those things. Featuring outsized performances from John Barrymore and Carole Lombard as, respectively, a bombastic Broadway producer and the actress-lover who bolts from his grip after he turns her into a star, Twentieth Century exudes the most important philosophy of the screwball comedy: that the romantic leads could also be the comic relief. Not only could they knock each other down and put each other down, it was recommended. What better way to show the two lovers communicated in their own special way, apart from the rest of the world? The screwball "battle of the sexes" really is a battle in Twentieth Century. Barrymore's imperious impresario Oscar Jaffe plucks lingerie model Mildred Plotka (Lombard) from obscurity, rechristening her Lily Garland and bringing out the talent that only he sees in her. The opening rehearsal sequence sets the tone for their relationship, with Jaffe overwhelming Lily by berating her and prodding her with a sharp pin in order to draw her emotions during the play's dramatic apex. When the movie soon cuts to three years later, Lily is a star of a series of Jaffe hits, but she's still being overwhelmed by him. He's not just her boss, he's also her possessive lover. "That's not love, it's pure tyranny!" she carps, before she reacts to Jaffe's latest ploy to gain sympathy by calling him a "cheap ham" (Lily dishes it out as well takes it, and this is Lombard's breakthrough role). When she finds out Jaffe has had a private eye (Edgar Kennedy) tapping her phone calls, she takes the first train to Hollywood and a successful career in pictures. As gesticulating, overdramatic Jaffe might say, "From now on, I close the iron door on you!" - his favorite arm-swinging declaration when firing his underlings, before inevitably rehiring them minutes later in a moment of need. And Jaffe's moments of need deepen. Another jump in time reveals Lily to be a Hollywood star and Jaffe to be slumping badly. His new protegee is a bust, and his debt-laden latest production just barely escapes sheriff's warrants in Chicago, with Jaffe having to don a southern gentleman disguise to get past a deputy and onto a departing train. The movie is named for the once-famous Chicago-New York train the Twentieth Century Limited where, for the second half of the movie, Jaffe tries to con Lily into signing with him for a typically over-the-top production of The Passion Play (Barrymore's frantic portrayal of the production's action, including his imitation of the 100 camels Jaffe wants onstage, is not one you'll soon forget). Lily has unwittingly made the mistake of getting on the same train, and wants no part of the production. But Jaffe doesn't care what Lily wants. Like a lot of great comedies, Twentieth Century builds its comedy patiently and steadily. It's in full swing by the time it reaches the train, and only accelerates more. There, a nutcase with a fondness for pasting religious stickers all over the train and passing bad checks (played by Etienne Girardot) becomes the instigator behind many of the laughs. But it's the central love-hate romance between Jaffe and Lily that pulses Twentieth Century. Adapting their own stage play, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur scripted the movie for director Hawks, years before Hawks would take their rough-and-tumble newspaper comedy The Front Page, change the gender of one of the leads and turn it into His Girl Friday, the fastest-paced of all the screwball romantic comedies (and three years before Hecht would give Lombard another signature role in Nothing Sacred). Twentieth Century is also a hint of the screwball heyday to come in its effective use of a raft of choice character actors, including Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns as Jaffe's long-suffering right-hand men (coincidentally, the two are also in It Happened One Night), Charles Levison (a/k/a Charles Lane), the aforementioned Kennedy and Fred "Snowflake" Toones. Unfortunately, Twentieth Century comes to us from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has thus far shown little commitment to imaginatively repackaging its back catalog of movies for DVD. While it's easy to understand releasing a no-frills disc for a run-of-the-mill movie, for something as special as Twentieth Century that just seems like bad business. For more information about Twentieth Century, visit Sony Pictures. To order Twentieth Century, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Sherman

Quotes

I close -
- Oscar Jaffe
Yeah, yeah, I know - you close the iron door on me!
- Oliver Webb

Trivia

"Napoleon Of Broadway", the play on which Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur based their screenplay, was based on playwright Charles Bruce Millholland's experiences working for the legendary eccentric theater producer David Belasco. Although Milholland's play was unproduced, Hecht and MacArthur's play opened in New York on 29 December 1932 and had 152 performances. In the cast were Etienne Girardot (who re-created his role for the movie), Granville Bates, William Frawley, Joseph Crehan and Dennie Moore. There was a revival in 1950, and another is planned in 2004 with Alec Baldwin.

Eddy Chandler (Cameraman) and George Offerman (Page Boy) are listed in studio records as actors in this movie, but they did not appear. Edward Gargan is listed by contemporary and other sources as the Sheriff, but that role was played by James Burke. George E. Stone and Edgar Edwards are mentioned as cast members in a Hollywood Reporter news item, but they were not seen in the movie.

Notes

According to Hollywood Reporter news items, first Roy Del Ruth and then Lewis Milestone were set to direct this film. Hollywood Reporter news items also provide the following information about the production: producer Harry Cohn negotiated with Eugenie Leontovich, who played "Lily Garland" in the Broadway production, to recreate her role for the film, and later tried to obtain Gloria Swanson for the part. (In 1950, Swanson starred in a New York revival of the play.) A March 15, 1936 New York Times article stated that Miriam Hopkins was also considered for the lead. Columbia considered casting William Frawley as "Owen O'Malley," the part he played in the Broadway production, but instead borrowed Roscoe Karns from Paramount for the role. Although a November 16, 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Gregory Ratoff was signed for the role he had enacted on the stage, he was not in the original Broadway production nor the finished film. Etienne Girardot was the only actor to recreate his role in the Broadway production for the film. Other Hollywood Reporter news items in late November 1933 reported that Preston Sturges had been hired to write the screenplay, but that he was let go a week later after he had "failed to get going" on the script. The studio then began negotiations with Herman Mankiewicz to work on the film, which was to be produced by Felix Young. There is no confirmation that Mankiewicz worked on the script, however, and Sturges' contribution to the completed film is doubtful. A Hollywood Reporter news item includes George E. Stone and Edward Edgar in the cast, but their appearance in the finished picture has not been confirmed. Although contemporary and modern sources credit Edward Gargan with the role of the sheriff, it was played by James Burke, who is listed on the CBCS. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Austin Parker was signed to adapt the play, but his contribution to the completed film has not been confirmed. According to a Daily Variety news item, Columbia considered releasing the picture under a different title because they were afraid that too many "westerners" had never heard of the Twentieth Century train.
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Hays Office felt great concern about "the advisability of using the Passion Play and its characters as the comedy element, as it was used in the original play that ran on Broadway," and repeatedly warned Columbia to tone down the religious angle. In a letter to Cohn, PCA Director Joseph I. Breen stated: "...we still believe there will be serious difficulty in inducing an anti-Semitic public to accept a [motion picture] play produced by an industry believed to be Jewish in which the Passion Play is used for comedy purposes." The Hays Office requested that the studio eliminate the line, "I am der lead" in the interchange between the two beards and "Oscar Jaffe" when they tell him about the Passion Play. After the deletion was made, the PCA was satisfied with the picture, although they did later insist that the scene were "Oscar Jaffe" jabs "Lily Garland" with the pin be modified so that it could not be seen exactly where he jabs her.
       According to modern sources, Gene Fowler contributed to the screenplay and Kalloch designed the gowns. Modern sources also assert that Ina Claire, Tallulah Bankhead, Ruth Chatterton, Constance Bennett, Ann Harding, Kay Francis and Joan Crawford were all considered for the lead by Cohn and director Howard Hawks. According to modern sources, Napoleon on Broadway, written by Charles Bruce Millholland, was not produced, but instead was rewritten by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and renamed Twentieth Century. On the Twentieth Century, a musical adaptation of the play, opened in New York on February 19, 1978 with John Cullum and Madeline Kahn starring. Television presentations of the play included the October 7, 1949 Ford Theatre version, directed by Marc Daniels and starring Fredric March and Lili Palmer; a October 12, 1953 Broadway Television Theatre production directed by Robert St. Aubrey and starring Fred Clark and Constance Bennett; and the April 7, 1956 Ford Star Jubilee production, produced by Arthur Schwartz and starring Orson Welles and Betty Grable.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1982

Released in United States February 13, 1991

Released in United States on Video November 2, 1988

Released in United States Spring May 11, 1934

Shown at Pacific Film Archive (Comedy, American Style) in Berkeley, CA February 13, 1991.

Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Marathon of Mirth": Comedy Marathon) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)

Released in United States February 13, 1991 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive (Comedy, American Style) in Berkeley, CA February 13, 1991.)

Released in United States Spring May 11, 1934

Released in United States on Video November 2, 1988