Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Twentieth Century

Primadonna / Ventesimo secolo. US © 1934 Columbia Pictures Corporation. P+D: Howard Hawks. Based on the play (1932) di Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, adapted from Napoleon on Broadway di Charles Bruce Milholland; SC: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur; DP: Joseph H. August, Joseph Walker; ED: Gene Havlick; S: Edward Bernds; Ass. D: Charles C. Coleman; Cast: John Barrymore (Oscar Jaffe), Carole Lombard (Mildred Plotka alias Lily Garland), Walter Connolly (Oliver Webb), Roscoe Karns (Owen O’Malley), Ralph Forbes (George Smith), Dale Fuller (Sadie), Etienne Girardot (Matthew G. Clark), Herman Bing (primo attore barbuto), Lee Kohlmar (secondo attore barbuto), James P. Burtis (controllore del treno), Billie Seward (Anita), Charles Levison (Max Jacobs), Mary Jo Mathews (Emmy Lou), Edgard Kennedy (McGonigle), Gigi Parrish (Schultz), Fred Kelsey (detective); Pri. pro.: 3 maggio 1934. 35 mm. 91’. B&w. English version. From: Sony Columbia. Wednesday, 29 June 2011 at 9.00, Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato).

Catalogue: "The birth of screwball. Pauline Kael actually defined it as “a hardboiled farce”, and Twentieth Century has a hard heart, a mocking spirit and a cynical contempt for romanticism. It appears to be a film about theater, a consolidated sub-genre of the times, but it is really a movie about theatricality as gift, vice or curse, not interpreted by chance by John Barrymore, who was the quintessential example of it on stage and on the screen. Twentieth Century was a comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, written and performed in 1932; they “drew their inspiration for the main character from the three giants of Broadway: Jed Harris, Morris Gest and David Belasco” (Barbara Grespi), and it was their greatest success after The Front Page. The same writers adapted it for film, breaking up the settings. As a play it began on the train, on film Oscar and Lily meet, fall in love and break up in a long prologue between the theater and hotel rooms, which Hawks used to liven up the characters and radicalize the relationship: John Barrymore is a seductive impresario and braggart, who looks like he has seen both the sacred fire and an alcoholic coma, while Carole Lombard is a country girl shaped by a despotic Pygmalion who takes off for Hollywood – an a-star-is-born variant with unforgiving derision of all sentimentality. Barrymore has to get Lombard back, and their histrionic war is fought on the Twentieth Century Limited, a train as luxurious as a grand hotel and sparkling with modernity. Twentieth Century received a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences (which in the Depression of 1934 decidedly preferred the heartening populism of It Happened One Night) but later was given masterpiece status by Andrew Sarris, who in the 1960s defined it as a foundational work arguing that it was the first comedy in which comic weight was pulled not by character actors but by the leading of the romance. In Italy, Pietro Bianchi was the first to re-evaluate the film." Paola Cristalli.

AA: The legendary comedy revisited. The Columbia comedies Twentieth Century and  It Happened One Night (both 1934) were pathbreakers of screwball. Oscar the Broadway director is a Svengali-like character who makes a big star of the lingerie model Lily, and they score big successes together, but Lily escapes Oscar's tyranny to Hollywood. Lily's success grows, but Oscar only has flops. They meet by chance on the Twentieth Century luxury train, and Oscar stages his ultimate coup de théâtre to win Lily back. - I have always had trouble with this film, and although I wanted again very much to like it, the trouble remained. Oscar Jaffe is meant to be ridiculously theatrical, but John Barrymore overdoes it. Barrymore may have been a fantastic actor in live theatre, but he never learned to project quietly in a movie. He sets the tone, and there is too much shouting. Carole Lombard tunes into the John Barrymore wavelength, and the result is a bit too much shrill screaming. - The screenplay is witty, and a little less frenetic interpretation would have been great. - Another fine Sony Columbia print.

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