Twentieth Century – Blu-Ray Review

This Howard Hawks film from 1934 is the first of Hawks’s screwball comedies. It stars John Barrymore and Carole Lombard in a movie that is pretty zany, but doesn’t go to the dizzying heights of Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday. However, Twentieth Century is still a very fun movie.

Barrymore plays an egomaniac stage producer, Oscar Jaffe. Jaffe pucks fashion model Mildred Plotka (Lombard) from obscurity, turning her into Lily Garland, but she leaves his clutches to make it in Hollywood on her own. Through a series of circumstances they end up on the same train, and hilarity ensues. Of course, they’re both great – it’s the film that made Lombard into a big star.

It has a very witty script, and the leads have great chemistry. Basically, what happened was that the production ran into problems during the first few days, because Lombard was not very good. Hawks went to her and said something like, what would you do if you had been paid for the entire shoot and don’t need to do any more acting? Now go do what you would do if you were really in this situation. The result was a classic comedy with a funny recurring gag about a religious nut who keeps putting these stickers everywhere. It moves at a quick pace in its 91 minutes, and delivers exactly what you want from a screwball comedy

Lombard plays a quintessential Hawksian woman. The dialogue is delivered at a fast pace (not as fast as in his later films, but you have to start somewhere) and really delivers. Interestingly, some very prominent screenwriters were involved at various points of the script, including Preston Sturges and Herman J. Mankiewicz.

Extras on the Indicator release include a 4K restoration, a new audio commentary by film critic Farran Smith Nehme, a featurette on the career of Carole Lombard by academic Lucy Bolton, a short appreciation from Peter Bogdanovich, a Super8 home-cinema version, and the 1957 radio adaptation with Orson Welles and Elissa Landi in the lead roles. An Austin Film Society trailer,  and image gallery are joined by a 32-page booklet with a new essay from Pamela Hutchinson, material from Hawkes himself on the film, an overview of contemporary critical responses.

★★★★

Ian Schultz

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