You can make a good case that without the men on each side of her, Carole Lombard might not be all that well remembered today. Not to say she hadn't previously delivered some good performances, but working with these two unleashed something in her, transforming an often mannered actress into a confident, comedic dynamo, not unlike her popular off-screen personality, and vaulting her to the top tier of stardom.
On Lombard's left is John Barrymore, near the end of his run as a stage, then cinematic legend. On her right is the director who, along with Barrymore, helped elicit heretofore unseen qualities in her. His name is Howard Hawks; the film, of course, was "Twentieth Century." And tonight at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, Calif., it kicks off a 38-film festival of Hawks, probably the most versatile of classic Hollywood directors.
To become a success in acting, Hawks (and Barrymore) encouraged Lombard to do less acting, became more natural in her approach. It unlocked talent that enabled her to go toe-to-toe with the veteran Barrymore (which, in turn, encouraged him; most consider "Twentieth Century" among his greatest performances, and certainly his greatest in comedy), and he later called Lombard the greatest actress he'd ever worked with, a compliment Carole treasured for the rest of her life.
We've written before about the Stanford Theatre (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/29489.html); it's one of the gems of the repertory circuit, and a must-visit venue for Bay Area classic film lovers. An added touch for the Hawks festival is that noted cinema author David Thomson will introduce each Saturday performance at 7:30...beginning this Saturday with "Twentieth Century." (It will also be shown at that time Friday and Sunday, along with a 4 p.m. showing Sunday. "Scarface," the gangster classic with Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak and George Raft, will run at 5:45 and 9:15 all three nights.)
Among other films to get the Thomson treatment will be screwballers "Bringing Up Baby" and "His Girl Friday," dramas "Only Angels Have Wings," "To Have And Have Not" and "The Big Sleep" and westerns "Red River" and "Rio Bravo." Wednesdays and Thursdays will generally feature lesser-known Hawks films -- including two pairs of silent features, with organ accompaniment, on May 2 and 3. (It's not widely known, but Lombard had a small role in one of Hawks' first silents, "The Road To Glory" from 1926, a lobby card of which is shown below. It's not on the schedule -- I'm not sure it still exists, since it's among Carole's pre-accident Fox films, none of which has been seen for decades -- but an unrelated sound film by the same name from 1936 will run on May 16 and 17 with "The Thing From Another World.")
For a schedule of the Hawks festival, go to http://stanfordtheater.com and see "current calendar." If you're in the area this weekend, check out "Twentieth Century" the way it should be seen...on a big screen and with an audience. Carole and John think you'll get a big kick out of the experience.