cinema experiences

Cinema Experiences: Twentieth Century (1934)

Saturday nights are always good nights to go to the cinema!  After the success that was Bringing Up Baby last weekend, I went back to the BFI tonight with a couple of friends to see another Howard Hawks film, Twentieth Century (Paramount), starring my second favorite actress of all time, Carole Lombard.  It has John Barrymore, too!  The film concerns a rather nutty (isn’t everyone a bit nuts in screwball comedies?) playwright named Oscar Jaffe who discovers a shop-girl on whom he bestows the stage name Lily Garland.  Lily is a not-so-good actress, but Jaffe knows there’s a goldmine of talent hidden in there somewhere.  He gets it out by jabbing a pin into Lily’s backside. A crazy love affair ensues before Lily leaves Jaffe to hit it big in Hollywood.  When Jaffe becomes hard up for money, he coincidentally runs into Lily on the 20th Century train from Hollywood to New York and more crazy antics follow.

Carole Lombard actually plays the straight(er) character in this film, just to give you an idea of how riotous the comedy is!  She and Barrymore are brilliant together.  This was actually the first John Barrymore film I’d ever seen and I thought he was hilarious–a bit like Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, taken up a few notches if you can believe it.  Or maybe it was just the wild hair…

Anyway, I’d definitely recommend this film, it was a riot from start to finish.  One wishes Carole Lombard had lived longer because she was definitely a force to be reckoned with on screen.  She met Barrymore match for match.  Loved it!  And her wardrobe was nothing short of fabulous.

Kendra has been the weblady at since 2007. She lives in Yorkshire and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and co-author of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies (Running Press). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, Instagram at @vivandlarrygram, or at her official website.

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Comments (2)

  1. Skip Willy Wonka and go straight to Young Frankenstein (1974). When I saw Twentieth Century a few years ago, all I could think of was Gene Wilder as Frederick Frankenstein in his lounging clothes entangled in his own dramatic diction. Forty years apart but both a kindred stew of screwball elegance.
    Thanks for your piece.


  2. “Twentieth Century” is one of my favorite screwball comedies. John Barrymore was a master of the comic effect of raised eyebrows, and the great character actor Walter Connolly is wonderful as his exasperated assistant. The Carole Lombard character gets her name changed from the comical-sounding Mildred Plotka to Lily Garland — the name “Plotka” gets recycled in another great screwball comedy “It’s a Wonderful World” (1939) with James Stewart trying to elude capture by the police by disguising himself wearing incredibly thick eyeglasses which magnify his eyeballs to great comic effect.

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