Review: 20th Century
Blu-ray: 20th Century (1934)
Interestingly, 20th Century has nothing whatsoever to do with time or the studio. It is in fact, a train.
The film is based on ‘Napoleon of Broadway’, a very successful play by Charles Bruce Millholland about his experiences in working for the legendary Broadway producer. This screwball comedy film directed by the great Howard Hawks and starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard was made and released just before the Hays code was vigorously enforced by the censors, and boy you can tell! Semi-clad Lombard living in SIN with a man baby, yet very handsome, John Barrymore.
A lot of the film is set on the 20th Century Limited train as it travels from Chicago and is considered to be the prototype for screwball comedy including the dizzy blonde dame (Carole Lombard), a charming, but befuddled, hero (John Barrymore), dazzling dialogue, and a touch of slapstick.
The story itself is more or less boy meets girl, or rather, Broadway impresario and older man about town Oscar Jaffe (Barrymore) takes an unknown lingerie (oh la la) model named Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) and despite her being a really awful actress, makes her the star of his latest play, despite the grave misgivings of his two long suffering assistants, accountant Oliver Webb (Walter Connolly) and the continually drunk Owen O’Malley (Roscoe Karns).
Oscar transforms his protégée into the actress Lily Garland, to great success, Oscar seduces her, they become partners in work and … love.
Three years later, Lily high on success, and tired of Oscar being a demanding possessive baby, attempts to leave him.
Lombard is a delight and Barrymore does ham it up a bit, but one has to remember this film was made in the 1930s. Bearing that in mind it’s lost nothing in its zingy dialogue and … I laughed out loud several times. Knowing Lily is vain Oscar tells her of his wish for her to play Mary Magdalene in his new play, ‘sensual, heartless, but beautiful…..running the gamut from the gutter, to glory…. can you see her Lily? ….. the little wanton ending up in tears at the foot of the cross. I’m going to have Judas strangle himself with her hair’.
That had me in tears, and the film is full of them.
A real classic, just as funny now as it was then.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
- 4K restoration
- Original mono audio
- Audio commentary with film critic and writer Farran Smith Nehme (2021)
- Stars in Her Eyes (2021, 17 mins): academic Lucy Bolton discusses the film career of actor Carole Lombard
- Peter Bogdanovich Recommends ‘Twentieth Century’ (1989, 5 mins): appreciation by the acclaimed filmmaker
- Super 8 version: cut-down home cinema presentation
- The Campbell Playhouse: ‘Twentieth Century’ (1939, 57 mins): radio adaptation starring Orson Welles and Elissa Landi
- Austin Film Society trailer (2016)
- Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Limited edition exclusive 32-page booklet with a new essay by Pamela Hutchinson, Howard Hawks on Twentieth Century, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
- World premiere on Blu-ray
- Limited edition of 3,000 copies
20th Century is released 22nd March 2021.