Carole Lombard fans in the U.S. can get a kick out of Turner Classic Movies this Saturday night, when it presents two of her best as part of a night of screwball comedy. The Lombard twin bill starts at 10 p.m. (Eastern) with "Twentieth Century" (1934), the film that put Carole the comedic actress on the map. Both director Howard Hawks and co-star John Barrymore (whose work is delightful) coaxed her into showing a comic side of her that friends knew in real life, but had heretofore rarely shown on the screen.
Supposedly, Carole was not the first choice for the role of Mildred Plotka (lingerie salesgirl) turned Lily Garland (temperamental Broadway/Hollywood star). Reportedly, others considered included Gloria Swanson, Miriam Hopkins, Ina Claire, Tallulah Bankhead, Ruth Chatterton, Constance Bennett, Ann Harding, Kay Francis and Joan Crawford. All but Crawford (whose acting style simply lacked the deftness for riotous comedy) might have been able to pull it off opposite Barrymore, but the character -- and the tone of the film -- nevertheless would have been different.
It's interesting to think what Lombard's career would have been like had she not been cast in this film and her career had consequently never ascended to its mid- and late 1930s heights. She'd likely have been remembered by film buffs for a few good performances, such as in "Virtue," "No More Orchids" and the first half of "No Man Of Her Own," but that's it. (And without Carole's rise later in the decade, would she and Clark Gable have been together?) She would have been recalled as a second-tier star, at best.
Some things to ponder as you watch Lombard's final pre-Code film, meaning the last time we got to see her dressed on the big screen like this:
Come midnight, TCM provides a double dose of Carole with her only three-strip Technicolor feature, "Nothing Sacred":
A sly commentary on media and the public, "Nothing Sacred," written by Ben Hecht (a co-author of "Twentieth Century") and directed by William Wellman, stars Lombard, by now fully aware of her comedic powers and using them to the utmost, as beautiful fraud Hazel Flagg, who Mew York believes is dying of radium poisoning (thanks to conniving reporter Fredric March) but is actually fit as a fiddle.
"Nothing Sacred" features a splendid supporting cast -- from Walter Connolly as March's editor and Charles Winninger as the small-town doctor whose inept readings of Hazel's health caused the entire mess, to great bits by Margaret Hamilton as a Vermont drugstore spinster, Frank Fay as an unctuous nightclub master of ceremonies and boxer Maxie Rosenbloom as a hired tough. But Lombard anchors the film, and she's wonderful in it.
Four other notable screwballs are on the schedule (all times Eastern): At 8 p.m. "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) gets the "Essentials" treatment from Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin (curse you, Katharine Hepburn); at 1:30 a.m., there's "Merrily We Live" (1938), a faux "My Man Godfrey"; and finally, two of Irene Dunne's best screwballs, "Theodora Goes Wild" (1936) at 3:15 a.m. and the brilliant "The Awful Truth" (1937) at 5.