Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Twentieth Century (1934)

Twentieth Century is a chore to watch, even with all the top-drawer talent assembled for its production.

Director Howard Hawks is one of the great American directors of the 20th century. His credits include the original Scarface, Red River and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.


John Barrymore was one of the great early American actors until a fondness for the bottle crippled his screen legacy. Dinner at Eight and Grand Hotel are some of his biggest films.

Carole Lombard was one of Hollywood's biggest leading ladies in the 1930s. The star of Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Made For Each Other died in a plane crash in 1942. She was 33.

The name Charles Lane may not jump out at film-goers, but Internet Movie Database credits him with 358 television and film appearances between 1931 and 2006, when he narrated The Night Before Christmas.


Twentieth Century, based on Charles Bruce Millholland's play Napoleon of Broadway, can tire even the most patient of viewers with its incessant yelling between characters. Yes, there are some funny moments and clever lines in this Columbia release, but the film's 91 minutes are a labour to get through.

Oscar Jaffe (Barrymore) is a hotshot theatrical producer. He's discovered a new talent, model Mildred Plotka (Lombard), who he wisely renames Lily Garland. His associates, including Oliver Webb (Walter Connolly) and Max Jacobs (Lane), are less than enthused with her ability on stage.

Jaffe perseveres. "The gold is all there, but we must mine it," he counsels his creative team. Jaffe's right. A new star is born. They become an item. The team of Garland and Jaffe helm three smash shows in three small years. That ends when Garland bristles under Jaffe's domination. The guy is a control freak. The years haven't been kind to Garland. She's starting to act like a diva.

When Garland bolts for Hollywood, Jaffe's magic disappears. A string of bombs follow with the latest putting him in the hole nearly $80,000. Eighty years ago, that was a daunting amount of debt.


He needs financial help for his new show, based on The Passion Play. It's a toss-up if that cash will come from trying to reunite with Garland or a seemingly free-spending businessman, Matthew Clark (Etienne Gardot). Lili, determined as she is to stand alone from her mentor, usually falls for whatever pitch he makes to win her back.

Even with its trim running time, Twentieth Century wears out its welcome. For diehard fans of Hollywood's Golden Age only.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Even with his impressive resume, Hawks was only nominated once for a best directing Oscar (Sergeant York). He received an honorary Oscar in 1975. Co-stars Connolly and Roscoe Karns also appeared in It Happened One Night. Lane was a real estate salesman in It's a Wonderful Life.

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