Twentieth Century (film)

Last updated

Twentieth Century
Twentieth Century (1934 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Ben Hecht
Charles MacArthur
Based on(Based on the play)
(Napoleon of Broadway) by Charles Bruce Millholland
Produced byHoward Hawks
Starring
Cinematography Joseph H. August
(as Joseph August)
Edited by Gene Havlick
Color process Black and white
Production
company
Columbia Pictures
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • May 11, 1934 (1934-05-11)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Twentieth Century is a 1934 American pre-Code screwball comedy film [1] [2] [3] directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. Much of the film is set on the 20th Century Limited train as it travels from Chicago to New York City. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur adapted their 1932 Broadway play of the same name [4] – itself based on the unproduced play Napoleon of Broadway by Charles Bruce Millholland – with uncredited contributions from Gene Fowler and Preston Sturges. [5]

Contents

Along with Frank Capra's It Happened One Night , also released in 1934 (which coincidentally has the same music over the opening titles), Twentieth Century is considered to be a prototype for the screwball comedy. "Howard Hawks' rapid-fire romantic comedy established the essential ingredients of the screwball – a dizzy dame, a charming, but befuddled, hero, dazzling dialogue, and a dash of slapstick." [6] Its success propelled Lombard into the front ranks of film comediennes. The film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2011. [7] [8]

Plot

Lobby card for Twentieth Century 20thcenturylobbycard - crop.jpg
Lobby card for Twentieth Century

Ebullient Broadway impresario Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) takes an unknown lingerie model named Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) and makes her the star of his latest play, despite the grave misgivings of everyone else, including his two long-suffering assistants, accountant Oliver Webb (Walter Connolly) and the consistently tipsy Owen O'Malley (Roscoe Karns). Through intensive training, Oscar transforms his protégée into the actress "Lily Garland", and both she and the play are resounding successes. Over the next three years, their partnership spawns three more smash hits, and Lily is recognized as a transcendent talent.

Then Lily tries to break off their professional and personal relationship, fed up with Oscar's overpossesiveness and control of every aspect of her life. Oscar talks her out of it, promising to be more trusting and less controlling in the future. Instead, he secretly hires a private detective agency run by McGonigle to watch her every move, even to the point of tapping her telephone. When she finds out, it is the last straw; she leaves for Hollywood and soon becomes a big movie star.

Without Lily, Oscar produces flop after flop. After one such disappointment, to avoid being imprisoned for his debts, he is forced to disguise himself to board the luxurious Twentieth Century Limited train travelling from Chicago to New York City's Grand Central Terminal. By chance, Lily Garland boards the train at a later stop with her boyfriend George Smith (Ralph Forbes). After prevaricating, Oscar sees a chance to restore his fortunes and salvage his relationship with Lily.

Oscar schemes to get her to sign a contract with him. However, Lily wants nothing more to do with him. She is on her way to see Oscar's rival (and former employee), Max Jacobs (Charles Lane), to star in his play. However, Oscar manages to get George to break up with her. Knowing that Lily offers him one last chance at professional success he 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." Then Oliver thinks he has found somebody to finance Oscar's project, fellow passenger Mathew J. Clark (Etienne Girardot), not realizing that Clark is a harmless escapee from a mental asylum. When Oscar is slightly wounded in a scuffle with Clark, he pretends to be dying and gets a distraught Lily to sign his contract. The film ends with their first rehearsal, where Oscar reverts to his usual self, domineering a desperate Lily.

Cast

Production

The genesis of Twentieth Century was Napoleon of Broadway, a play by Charles Bruce Millholland about his experiences in working for the legendary and eccentric Broadway producer David Belasco. [9]

His play was not produced, but it became the basis for the Hecht-MacArthur comedy, which lasted for 152 performances on Broadway, beginning on December 29, 1932, [4] and which they later adapted for the big screen. Howard Hawks was not the first choice; Roy Del Ruth and Lewis Milestone had been set to direct before Hawks got the job. Columbia tried to get William Frawley from the Broadway cast, but instead borrowed Roscoe Karns from Paramount. [10]

Before Lombard was cast, Columbia boss Harry Cohn negotiated with Eugenie Leontovich, who had played the part on Broadway, and then considered Gloria Swanson and Miriam Hopkins. Other reports say that Cohn also approached Ina Claire, Tallulah Bankhead, Ruth Chatterton, Constance Bennett, Ann Harding, Kay Francis and Joan Crawford. However, Hawks believed that Lombard was a brilliant actress who had yet to be unleashed on film. He convinced a reluctant Columbia to borrow her from Paramount Studios.[ citation needed ]

During Barrymore's initial reading with her, he looked to Hawks with an expression that showed he did not believe in Hawks' intuition. The rest of the production went dryly, with Lombard staggering through one scene after another and playing the same stoic characters that she had been taught to portray. Hawks took her aside and asked her what she was being paid for the film. Lombard told him and Hawks asked her what she would do if a man said "something" about her, coming up with an example from the back of his mind. Lombard said, "I would kick him in the balls." Hawks said, "Well, Barrymore said that, so why don't you kick him?" Of course Barrymore had said nothing of the sort, but the plan worked and after Lombard yelped a few profanities, she continued through the shoot with an unforgettable vigor. For the remainder of her career—until her tragic death in an airplane crash in 1942 at age 33—before beginning a film, Lombard would always send a telegram to Hawks saying, "I'm going to kick him!"[ citation needed ]

Lombard and Barrymore became friends during filming. When Barrymore's career was declining, Lombard raised hell to get him to work on her film True Confession (1937).[ citation needed ]

Preston Sturges was hired to write the screenplay around late November 1933, but was removed from the project a week later because he had not made sufficient progress. Columbia then tried to get Herman Mankiewicz to write it, with Felix Young to produce. [10]

Twentieth Century – a title which Columbia considered changing because they feared that many westerners would not be familiar with the name of the train [10] – was in production February 22–March 24, 1934. [11]

During the filming, there were some problems with the censors at the Hays Office, who were concerned about the religious angle in the comedy of the film, and requested that it be toned down. Joseph Breen, who ran the Office, worried that "there will be serious difficulty in inducing an anti-Semitic public to accept a [motion picture] play produced by an industry believed to be Jewish in which the Passion Play is used for comedy purposes." The Office ultimately asked that one line be removed, which it was. They also requested that it be made less clear where Oscar jabs Lily with a pin. [10]

Twentieth Century was premiered in New York at Radio City Music Hall on May 3, 1934, and went into general release on May 11. [12] [13]

Reception

In his The New York Times review of Twentieth Century, Mordaunt Hall wrote, "John Barrymore is in fine fettle in Twentieth Century" and "acts with such imagination and zest that he never fails to keep the picture thoroughly alive." [14] All of the principal actors - Lombard ("gives an able portrayal"), Connolly ("excellent") and Karns ("adds bright flashes"), as well as Girardot ("an asset") - were also praised. However, Hall was less enthused about the comedy style, stating, "it seems a pity that they [Hecht and MacArthur] were tempted to stray occasionally too far from the realm of restrained comedy and indulge their fancy for boisterous humor." [14]

Twentieth Century's box office performance was described as "dismal". [15] It was a box office disappointment. [16]

Time magazine said "Twentieth Century is good fun, slick, wild and improbable." [17]

In December 2011, Twentieth Century was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. [7] In its induction, the Registry said that the "sophisticated farce about the tempestuous romance of an egocentric impresario and the star he creates did not fare well on its release, but has come to be recognized as one of the era's finest film comedies, one that gave John Barrymore his last great film role and Carole Lombard her first." [7]

Adaptations

On the Twentieth Century

In 1978, Cy Coleman (music), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (book and lyrics) created the stage musical, On the Twentieth Century , based on the film, the original Hecht and MacArthur play and the unpublished play by Millholland. It ran on Broadway for 460 performances, [18] and was revived for a special benefit performance in 2005. [19] Its first full-scale Broadway revival began in February 2015, with Peter Gallagher and Kristin Chenoweth in the lead roles.[ citation needed ]

Radio

Twentieth Century was presented on Star Playhouse November 22, 1953. The adaptation starred Lilli Palmer and Rex Harrison, who were married in real life. [20]

Related Research Articles

Howard Hawks American film director, producer and screenwriter

Howard Winchester Hawks was an American film director, producer and screenwriter of the classic Hollywood era. Critic Leonard Maltin called him "the greatest American director who is not a household name."

Screwball comedy Principally American genre of comedy film

Screwball comedy is a subgenre of the romantic comedy genre that became popular during the Great Depression, originating in the early 1930s and thriving until the early 1940s. It satirized the traditional love story. Many secondary characteristics of this genre are similar to film noir, but it distinguishes itself for being characterized by a female that dominates the relationship with the male central character, whose masculinity is challenged. The two engage in a humorous battle of the sexes, which was a new theme for Hollywood and audiences at the time.

Carole Lombard American actress

Carole Lombard was an American actress, particularly noted for her energetic, often off-beat roles in screwball comedies. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Lombard 23rd on its list of the greatest female stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema.

Ben Hecht American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist and novelist

Ben Hecht was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist, and novelist. A journalist in his youth, he went on to write 35 books and some of the most enjoyed screenplays and plays in America. He received screen credits, alone or in collaboration, for the stories or screenplays of some seventy films.

<i>Bringing Up Baby</i> 1938 film by Howard Hawks

Bringing Up Baby is a 1938 American screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It was released by RKO Radio Pictures. The film tells the story of a paleontologist in a number of predicaments involving a scatterbrained heiress and a leopard named Baby. The screenplay was adapted by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde from a short story by Wilde which originally appeared in Collier's Weekly magazine on April 10, 1937.

<i>His Girl Friday</i> 1940 film by Howard Hawks

His Girl Friday is a 1940 American screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell and featuring Ralph Bellamy and Gene Lockhart. It was released by Columbia Pictures. The plot centers on a newspaper editor named Walter Burns who is about to lose his ace reporter and ex-wife Hildy Johnson, newly engaged to another man. Burns suggests they cover one more story together, getting themselves entangled in the case of murderer Earl Williams as Burns desperately tries to win back his wife. The screenplay was adapted from the 1928 play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. This was the second time the play had been adapted for the screen, the first occasion being the 1931 film also titled The Front Page.

<i>My Man Godfrey</i> 1936 American comedy-drama film directed by Gregory La Cava

My Man Godfrey is a 1936 American screwball comedy film directed by Gregory La Cava and starring William Powell and Carole Lombard, who had been briefly married years before appearing together in the film. The screenplay for My Man Godfrey was written by Morrie Ryskind, with uncredited contributions by La Cava, based on 1101 Park Avenue, a short novel by Eric S. Hatch. The story concerns a socialite who hires a derelict to be her family's butler, and then falls in love with him.

<i>To Be or Not to Be</i> (1942 film) 1942 film by Ernst Lubitsch

To Be or Not to Be is a 1942 American black comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges and Sig Ruman. The plot concerns a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who use their abilities at disguise and acting to fool the occupying troops. It was adapted by Lubitsch (uncredited) and Edwin Justus Mayer from the story by Melchior Lengyel. The film was released one month after actress Carole Lombard was killed in an airplane crash. In 1996, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

<i>Ball of Fire</i> 1941 film by Howard Hawks

Ball of Fire is a 1941 American screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. This Samuel Goldwyn Productions film concerns a group of professors laboring to write an encyclopedia and their encounter with a nightclub performer who provides her own unique knowledge.

Rosalind Russell American actress

Catherine Rosalind Russell was an American actress, known for her role as fast-talking newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson in the Howard Hawks screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940), as well as for her portrayals of Mame Dennis in Auntie Mame (1958) and Rose in Gypsy (1962). A noted comedian, she won all five Golden Globes for which she was nominated. Russell won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1953 for her portrayal of Ruth in the Broadway show Wonderful Town. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress four times throughout her career.

<i>On the Twentieth Century</i> Musical

On the Twentieth Century is a musical with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Cy Coleman. Based partly on the 1930s film and play of the same name, the musical is part operetta, part farce and part screwball comedy. The story involves the behind-the-scenes relationship between Lily, a temperamental actress and Oscar, a bankrupt theatre producer. On a luxury train traveling from Chicago to New York in the 1920s, Oscar tries to cajole the glamorous Hollywood star into playing the lead in his new, but not-yet-written drama, and perhaps to rekindle their romance.

<i>Nothing Sacred</i> (film) 1937 film by William A. Wellman

Nothing Sacred is an American Technicolor screwball comedy film directed in 1937 by William A. Wellman, produced by David O. Selznick, and starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March with a supporting cast featuring Charles Winninger and Walter Connolly. Ben Hecht was credited with the screenplay based on the 1937 story "Letter to the Editor" by James H. Street, and an array of additional writers, including Ring Lardner Jr., Budd Schulberg, Dorothy Parker, Sidney Howard, Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman and Robert Carson made uncredited contributions.

<i>The Princess Comes Across</i> 1936 film by William K. Howard

The Princess Comes Across is a 1936 mystery/comedy film directed by William K. Howard and starring Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray, the second of the four times they were paired together. Lombard, playing an actress from Brooklyn pretending to be a Swedish princess, does a "film-length takeoff" on MGM's Swedish star Greta Garbo. The film was based on the 1935 novel A Halálkabin by Louis Lucien Rogger, the pseudonym of Laszlo Aigner and Louis Acze.

<i>Twentieth Century</i> (play)

Twentieth Century is a 1932 play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur based on the unproduced play Napoleon of Broadway by Charles B. Millholland, inspired by his experience working for the eccentric Broadway impresario David Belasco.

<i>The Front Page</i> (1931 film) 1931 film

The Front Page is a 1931 American pre-Code comedy-drama film directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien. Based on a 1928 Broadway play of the same name by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the film was produced by Howard Hughes, written by Bartlett Cormack and Charles Lederer, and distributed by United Artists. The supporting cast includes Mary Brian, George E. Stone, Matt Moore, Edward Everett Horton and Walter Catlett. At the 4th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Picture, Milestone for Best Director, and Menjou for Best Actor.

<i>The Gay Bride</i> 1934 film by Jack Conway

The Gay Bride is a 1934 black-and-white gangster screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard as a wisecracking gold-digger and Chester Morris as the poor man she despises. It was directed by Jack Conway and written by the husband-and-wife team of Sam and Bella Spewak, based on the story "Repeal" by Charles Francis Coe.

William Powell American actor

William Horatio Powell was an American actor. A major star at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, he was paired with Myrna Loy in 14 films, including the Thin Man series based on the Nick and Nora Charles characters created by Dashiell Hammett. Powell was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times: for The Thin Man (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), and Life with Father (1947).

<i>True Confession</i> 1937 film

True Confession is a 1937 American screwball comedy film directed by Wesley Ruggles and starring Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, and John Barrymore. It was based on the 1934 play Mon Crime, written by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuil. In 1946 it was remade as Cross My Heart.

<i>Fast and Loose</i> (1930 film) 1930 film

Fast and Loose is a 1930 American pre-Code romantic comedy film directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and starring Miriam Hopkins, Carole Lombard and Frank Morgan. The film was written by Doris Anderson, Jack Kirkland and Preston Sturges, based on the 1924 play The Best People by David Gray and Avery Hopwood. Fast and Loose was released by Paramount Pictures.

Etienne Girardot

Etienne Girardot was a diminutive stage and film actor of Anglo-French parentage born in London, England.

References

  1. Emanuel Levy (January 18, 2014). "Twentieth Century (1934): Howard Hawks' Top Screwball Comedy, Starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard".
  2. Samuel Wigley (October 22, 2018). "10 great screwball comedy films". British Film Institute.
  3. "National Film Registry 2011: 'Twentieth Century' (1934)". CBS News.
  4. 1 2 Twentieth Century at the Internet Broadway Database
  5. Twentieth Century at IMDb
  6. Columbia Tristar Home Video, 1992, CVR 11493 notes on back cover
  7. 1 2 3 "2011 National Film Registry more than a box of chocolates", Library of Congress, December 28, 2011; retrieved December 29, 2011.
  8. "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
  9. TCM "Trivia: Twentieth Century", tcm.com; accessed June 15, 2017.
  10. 1 2 3 4 TCM "Notes: Twentieth Century", tcm.com; accessed June 15, 2017.
  11. IMDB "Business data: Twentieth Century", IMDb.com; retrieved July 10, 2015.
  12. Twentieth Century, IMDb.com; retrieved July 10, 2015.
  13. Brown, Gene. Movie Time: A Chronology of Hollywood and the Movie Industry from Its Beginnings to the Present. New York: Macmillan, 1995; ISBN   0-02-860429-6, p. 119.
  14. 1 2 Hall, Mordaunt. "Twentieth Century (1934)." The New York Times, May 4, 1934.
  15. Churchill.hollywood, Douglas W. (December 30, 1934). "THE YEAR IN HOLLYWOOD; 1984 May Be Remembered as the Beginning of the Sweetness-and-Light Era". The New York Times.
  16. Churchill, Douglas W. (November 25, 1934). "TAKING A LOOK AT THE RECORD; Hollywood Consults the Box-Office Scores and Finds That Many Glittering Films Did Not Make Gold". The New York Times. ProQuest   101193306.
  17. "Cinema: The New Pictures". Time. May 14, 1934. Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2015.
  18. On the Twentieth Century (1978), Internet Broadway Database; retrieved July 10, 2015.
  19. On the Twentieth Century (2005), Internet Broadway Database; retrieved July 10, 2015.
  20. Kirby, Walter. "Better Radio Programs for the Week", The Decatur Daily Review (via Newspapers.com), November 22, 1953, pg. 46; retrieved July 8, 2015.