Skip to Content

Twentieth Century by Howard Hawks []



John Barrymore and Carole Lombard star in, what some site as the first screwball comedy, Twentieth Century. The film’s director, Howard Hawks, who delivered several box office smashes in the form of the more macho features (his credits include the original Scarface, Rio Bravo,the Big Sleep), was also adept to orchestrate the gut busting comedy piece. He later went on to direct other classics in this genre such asBringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday.

Sort of a silly version of the Red Shoes (though the film we’re discussing predates it), Twentieth Century presents a didactic relationship in the entertainment business. Oscar Jaffe, a Broadway producer played by Barrymore, casts an unknown to actress to play the lead in his newest production. This actress (brilliantly performed by Lombard) is put through the ringer and subjected to plenty of condescending exercises and verbal tirades by this larger than life figure. Despite his questionable methods and erratic behavior, Jaffe manages to mold this unknown into a household name. He also dictates that her household name shall be “Lily Garland”.

Once Garland has attained fame and fortune, she no longer needs the temperamental Oscar Jaffe in her life. As a result, the producer soon falls on hard times. Not only does he realize that he needs Garland back in his life for professional reasons, he discovers that he’s madly in love with the starlet! His crusade, at times devious, to win back her favor knows no bounds.

Barrymore’s portrayal of Jaffe, which is grandiose in one instant and hilariously pathetic the next, propels the story at a breakneck pace. Filled with slapstick gags and wild monologues, the actor gives one of the most memorable comedic performances committed to film.