By jimbus and by goo, it’s Burl! Ha ha, I’m here to look at a classic picture made long ago by one of cinema’s grand innovators, Howard Hawks! I’m tempted to say that Twentieth Century is an atypical Hawks picture, but the man was so incredibly versatile – he took successful stabs at action, screwball comedy, horror/sci-fi, war movies, films noir and westerns, after all – that I’m not so sure there is any such thing as an atypical Hawks picture!
This one is a comedy, though not particularly screwball! It’s a pretty good satire of showbiz personalities, though, and a train picture on top of that! Ha ha, I sure do love a good train picture! It starts with the great and gorgeous Carole Lombard playing Plotka, a would-be actress working on her first Broadway play! The director is the moody and tyrannical Oscar Jaffe, played by le grand jambon John Barrymore; Jaffe is in a Svengaliish frame of mind, and changes Plotka’s name to Lily Garland before first seducing her and then making her a big star!
Ha ha, cut to three years later when Jaffe and Lily are still an item, and have done three hit plays together, but are at each other’s throats! Jaffe is a terrible control freak and manipulator, and poor Lily is tired of it! So off she goes to Hollywood and becomes a big movie star there! We move forward in time again, and now Jaffe’s star has fallen, and he has to escape creditors in Chicago by donning whiskers and talking like Colonel Sanders! Ha ha, it’s great!
The rest of the movie takes place on the titular train, and I do admit that I’d assumed the whole picture took place on the train! So for a while there, through the first half, as much as I was enjoying it all, I was sort of wondering “Ha ha, where’s the train?” But don’t worry, because there’s plenty of train action! It’s packed with characters too, like the nutty evangelist, the goofy acting troupe and so forth! And of course there’s a Bellamy, which is to say a milquetoast pretender to the leading lady’s affections, who doesn’t stand a chance when set against the outrageous antics of the male star! Ha ha, he’s not actually played by Ralph Bellamy here, but close enough!
It’s a funny movie with that rip-roaring Hawksian verve and a hee-larious central performance from Barrymore! And it’s a train movie, like Human Desire, and you know how much I love those! There are some great supporting actors too, like Edgar Kennedy who was in Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher, George Reed, who was in Strange Illusion, and Charles Lane, who had a long career and was in everything! Ha ha!
It’s a terrific picture, and I recommend you have a look at it when you get a chance! I’m going to give Twentieth Century three and a half iron doors!