Though the film has a large cast, TWENTIETH CENTURY remains essentially a one-man show for John Barrymore, who plays one of the most preposterous and memorable characters to spring from the minds of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Directed with breakneck pace by Howard Hawks (as in his later Hecht-MacArthur adaptation, HIS GIRL FRIDAY ), it's the...read more
Though the film has a large cast, TWENTIETH CENTURY remains essentially a one-man show for John Barrymore, who plays one of the most preposterous and memorable characters to spring from the minds of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Directed with breakneck pace by Howard Hawks (as in his
later Hecht-MacArthur adaptation, HIS GIRL FRIDAY ), it's the story of a maniacal Broadway director (Barrymore) who transforms shopgirl Carole Lombard from a talented amateur to a smashing Great White Way success adored by public and press. For three years, Barrymore has been both Lombard's
lover and her Svengali, shepherding her career, controlling her behavior, and directing her plays. They battle regularly, but make up passionately. Now a huge star of the New York stage, Lombard yearns for some peace and respite from the manic Barrymore. One final disagreement does the trick, and
Lombard heads for the palm trees of Hollywood and a screen career. Barrymore's fortunes subsequently plummet, causing creditors to dog his heels in Chicago. To escape, he boards the Twentieth Century Limited train in the Windy City, accompanied by his manager, Walter Connolly, and press
representative Roscoe Karns, heading for what they hope will be newfound success in New York. As luck would have it, Lombard and her new fiance, football player Ralph Forbes, are also on the train. Barrymore despises the ruggedly handsome Forbes and doesn't bother to hide his disdain as he moves
in on Lombard (who has become as big a star on the screen as she was on the stage), trying to convince her to appear in his latest production. The remainder of the picture is a farcical series of biting verbal exchanges, opening and closing doors, hurled insults, thrown kisses, a madcap procession
of several weird characters on board the train, and some of the biggest laughs Barrymore ever received. In the end, as expected, Barrymore has convinced Lombard that Broadway is the place for her, and by the time the Twentieth Century pulls into Grand Central Station, she is safely under his
influence once more. Barrymore is a wonder as he does imitations of camels, tramples over his fellow actors' lines, sprinkles his dialog with foreign phrases, and generally leaves the rest of the cast looking like his stooges. The picture was not a hit when it first came out, perhaps because its
satire of flamboyant theater people failed to capture the imagination of moviegoing audiences; later it became the basis for the Broadway musical "On the Twentieth Century."
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