‘Twentieth Century’ on TCM

Howard Hawks’ pioneering screwball classic Twentieth Century plays on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, October 6 (with replays in November and December). My feature article on the film was recently published on the website.

Twentieth Century

Howard Hawks’ rapid-fire farce Twentieth Century (1934), a comic collision of tempestuous personalities in the rarified world of Broadway, is the proto-screwball comedy. It’s a genre born of the depression where the airs of the rich and sophisticated were deflated through madcap behavior and zany antics, all pitched at a breakneck pace. The elements of screwball had been kicking around the early sound era in the rat-a-tat pacing of the streetwise Warner Bros. pictures, the lampoons of the decadent rich in such films as Frank Capra’s Platinum Blonde (1931), and the show-biz pictures like Morning Glory (1933) and What Price Hollywood? (1932), but it took Howard Hawks to combine them in this screen adaptation of the Broadway farce. Hawks was a director more known for his male-centric action movies than zany comedies; his early thirties hits include the war picture The Dawn Patrol (1930), the prison drama The Criminal Code (1931), the race track thriller The Crowd Roars (1932) and the original Scarface (1932), the quintessential gangster film of the era. Twentieth Century was his first comedy of the sound era, but his mix of frantic pacing, whiplash shifts in tone and devil-may-care direction of glamorous stars in wacky parts launched the defining comedy genre of the thirties.

John Barrymore, on the downhill slide of his career, zings through the film as the self-promoting Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, showing a comic mastery that Hollywood rarely tapped. Carole Lombard, a pretty but largely undistinguished clothes horse of a leading lady, revealed a knockabout facility for physical comedy and a flair for tempestuous characters as Lily Garland, a lingerie model pulled out of the department store runway and transformed into Jaffe’s latest discovery….

Read the entire feature on the TCM website here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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