Twentieth Century (1934)
“The diamond was there. I merely supplied a little polish.”
So says John Barrymore to Carole Lombard in this riot of a comedy from writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur with the legendary Howard Hawks directing.
Barrymore plays it over the top as a famed broadway producer, writer and director who puts Carole on the road to fame as his newest discovery. She’s indebted to him and with a little coercion from John the two embark on an intense relationship. It isn’t long before Carole has had enough of John’s spying on her and lame attempts at suicide should she desert him. She’s off to Hollywood!
From here Barrymore hits rock bottom and his latest discovery is a failure sending him into bankruptcy with creditors watching his every move. In a wonderful scene at a train station in disguise he eludes his creditors and leaves town. It’s while on board the train that this farcical comedy delivers the goods. By chance Lombard is aboard and Barrymore begins plotting how to get his star discovery and lover back under his thumb.
From here it’s all classic screwball comedy with the entire cast chipping in. Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns do their part as Barrymore’s faithful employees and then there is Etienne Girardot as a rather harmless madman causing havoc to all on the train with his penchant for placing stickers wherever possible.
Barrymore is absolutely hilarious here with his hamming it up. The eyes blaze, the mop of hair is disheveled and flopping. He rolls the r’s to great effect and his “ting-a-ling a-ling a-ling” can’t help but bring a smile to the viewer.
Doing her best to match the Great Profile is Miss Lombard. She gives as good as she gets and the scene they share in her room aboard the train is the films highlight. It’s also a very physical comedy at times with Carole standing up to Barrymore’s shenanigans feet first.
As a pre code comedy there are a couple of scenes that wouldn’t have been played quite the same that stand out. One is of Carole dressed in an open housecoat in bra and panties and the other is a scene on board the train where it’s quite obvious she isn’t wearing a brassiere at all. Within the year that just wouldn’t be acceptable where the Hays Code is concerned.
Our two leads would reunite for another comedy along with Fred MacMurray in 1937’s True Confession. By this time Barrymore’s billing would slip from first to third as his career was sadly slipping away due to self abuse.
This was my first viewing of this Hawks classic and it’s quite obvious that it will require multiple viewings to catch all the gems that this script presents.
Lines like Barrymore uttering, “I never thought I should sink so low as to become an actor. It’s humiliating.” Classic!