If you haven't watched "Twentieth Century," Carole Lombard's breakthrough movie from the spring of 1934, in a while, it might be worth seeing one more time just to remind yourself how good it is. The entertainment site "A.V. Club" took a look back at it today in conjunction with the upcoming Netflix film "Mank," about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz's work on "Citizen Kane."
Mankiewicz had nothing to do with "Twentieth Century" (though he was one of the screenwriters on Carole's 1931 drama "Man Of The World"), but in this early screwball, screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, who adapted their hit Broadway play of the same title to the screen, created a pair of characters as big as their inflated egos in John Barrymore's Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe and Lombard's stage star Lily Garland, his former protege and lover who's ditched the Great White Way for Hollywood glory. (Below, Jaffe and Garland before she flees for the coast.)
As fate would have it, Jaffe -- returning home in ignominy after another production of his bombs in Chicago -- is aboard the famed Twentieth Century train with Garland, and devises a way to bring her back into the fold. Lily wants nothing of it, but eventually is tricked into signing for a production of the Passion Play.
Writer Mike D'Angelo says "the film basically amounts to a prolonged shouting match between Jaffe and Garland"; they dominate the proceedings, but the "little people" -- especially those aligned with Jaffe -- get their share of smart dialogue, too. For example, Jaffe's aide Owen, played by Roscoe Karns, seeks to persuade Lily to sign Oscar's contract, telling her, "That's not a contract. It's a coronation. Barrels of rubies. Enormous carpets for your pretty feet. Pearly onyx bathtubs. Slews of Myrmidons [Achilles' soldiers] at your beck and call." Yes, it's a high-falutin' reference, but Hecht and MacArthur cherish it just the same. (Karns is shown below between Lombard and Walter Connolly.)
The essay on "Twentieth Century" is fun read, and can be found at https://film.avclub.com/even-the-flunkies-have-a-dazzling-way-with-words-in-thi-1845709435. And here's a trailer for the movie, created by the Austin Film Scoeity.