Monday, September 13, 2010

TWENTIETH CENTURY | 1934 | "I love (to work with) you."

Broadway writer, director and producer Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) turns awkward lingerie model Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) into Lily Garland, famous stage actress.  

When we meet them, he's continuing to attempt to manipulate every aspect of her life, because so far it's made both of their careers.  On the flip-side, she is tired of his tyranny over every aspect of her life, and so she makes an impulsive departure for Hollywood.  

Later, their paths cross again on a cross-country train, the 20th Century.  By this time she is a huge movie star while he is a broken man.  Once he learns she's aboard the train, Oscar schemes to get Lily’s current boyfriend out of the way, and get her to sign onto his next production.

“Twentieth Century” is different from modern comedies because it is cerebral, and yet thoroughly wackadoodle. The level of melodrama that John Barrymore and Carole Lombard maintain is so consistent that I wonder if, at the time, anyone was concerned that audiences would think they were playing straight.  Once I watched this while my brain was a bit flatlined, and I found myself slipping and taking it at face value.  It’s like they’re in a satire of a telenovela, and they manage to keep it fresh (and consistent) for 90 minutes.

The tumultuous relationship between Oscar “OJ” Jaffe (John Barrymore) and Lily Garland (Carole Lombard) creates hugely successful Broadway plays.  And while most Screwballs are also rom-coms, and frequently employ the "verbal sparring as courtship" way of bringing two people together ("I hate you so much that I love you!"), this film is different because it utilizes the love/hate dynamic to get the guy and the gal together, as professionals.

This means there is no need for the heartfelt scene when each proclaims their love. This also means there’s no need for us to see evidence of their feelings throughout the film so that we buy into the soppy climax.  Without all of that, there is a lot more room for silliness.

And this film is silly.  Crazy silly.

Released: 1934
Director/Producer:  Howard Hawks
Leads:  John Barrymore, Carole Lombard
Writer: Charles Bruce Millholland (play "Napoleon of Broadway"), Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (screenplay), Gene Fowler (uncredited), Preston Sturges (uncredited)