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Twentieth Century

(American, 1934, 91 minutes, b&w, 16mm)

Directed by Howard Hawks

Cast:
John Barrymore
Carole Lombard
Walter Connolly
Roscoe Karns

Super screwball comedy in which egomaniacal Broadway producer Barrymore makes shopgirl Lombard a star; when she leaves him, he does everything he can to woo her back on a lengthy train trip. Barrymore has never been funnier, and Connolly and Karns are aces as his long-suffering cronies. Matchless script by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, from their play [of the same name]; later a hit Broadway musical, "On the Twentieth Century."

— Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide


As a vainglorious stage producer, John Barrymore is in fine fettle in "20th Century," a pictorial adaptation of the Hecht-MacArthur play, which is now decorating the Radio City Music Hall screen. And if it be said that it is his best performance since the one he gave in the film "Reunion in Vienna" it is by no means casting any reflections on his work in the interim, but merely that here he has a role with which to conjure, one that calls for a definite characterization notwithstanding the farcical interludes. Even during the repetitious mad moments of the tale, Mr. Barrymore acts with such imagination and zest that he never fails to keep the picture thoroughly alive.

Messrs. Hecht and MacArthur, who in the first place based their stage offering on a play written by Charles Bruce Millholland, were also responsible for bringing the story to the screen. . . . Instead of having all the action occur on a train from Chicago for this city [NYC], as was the case in the play, nearly half of the picture is concerned with incidents in the theatre run by the egomaniac Oscar Jaffe. This change is quite a good one, for although there is no gainsaying that the happenings on the train are frequently hilarious, the earlier glimpses have the virtue of being more effective through their relative restraint.

There is many a witty remark in this harum-scarum adventure. Carole Lombard gives an able portrayal as Lily. Walter Connolly is excellent as Webb, and Roscoe Karns, although he talks somewhat indistinctly, something which may be excused because of the bibulous nature of the character he plays, adds bright flashes to the film.

— Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times, May 4, 1934


Historical Note: The New York City-Chicago train known as "The Twentieth Century" made a regularly scheduled stop at Union Station, now Peter D. Kiernan Plaza, on Broadway in Albany.

— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.