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Broadway director Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore) is a bigger ham than most actors, but through sheer drive and talent he is able to build a successful career. When one of his discoveries, Lily Garland (Carole Lombard), rises to stardom and heeds the call of Hollywood, Oscar begins a career slide. He hits the skids and seems on his way out, until he chances to meet Lily again, on a train ride aboard the Twentieth Century Limited. Oscar pulls out all the stops to re-sign his former star, but it's a battle... because Lily, who is as temperamental as Oscar is, wants to have nothing to do with her former mentor. Written by
Dan Navarro <email@example.com>
Down but not quite out, a megalomaniacal theatrical producer schemes to get his former star & lover back under contract during a wild ride on the TWENTIETH CENTURY Limited racing from Chicago to New York City.
Directed by Howard Hawks from an inspired script by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur, this is one of the seminal screwball comedies which would set the high-water mark for years to come - zany characters, living at a frenetic pace, throwing outrageous lines at each other. While the situations are completely unrealistic it makes no matter. Films like this were calculated to lift Depression audiences out of their troubles for an hour or so; today, we long for them to work that old magic again.
In a large & spirited cast there is one eminence, one name above the title, one peak ascending over the smaller hills. John Barrymore, a lifetime of theatrical history and private dissolution etched on his remarkable face, is a grade A ham as the unspeakable Oscar Jaffe, willing to break any convention, law or dogma to get what he wants. Cajoling, pleading, threatening, cooing like a dove, screeching like a banshee, Barrymore is utterly mad, unspeakably obnoxious & thoroughly delightful. He doesn't just dominate the film, he overwhelms it like a thick wave of brimstone & honey. Watching him infuriate his players by chalking their movements on the floor, disguise himself as an elderly Southern gentleman in order to sneak aboard the train, or arranging his own fake death scene to serve his egotistical ends, is to watch a master of the acting art play a comedic role worthy of him.
Carole Lombard is lovely, but completely overshadowed by Barrymore. Her character, while that of a great star, is pitched at a more normal tilt and exists to react to his enormities. While she's wonderful to watch, it's impossible to forget to whom the film really belongs.
The rest of the cast is first rate. Barrymore's two faithful factotums are played by dyspeptic Walter Connolly and sardonic, boozy Roscoe Karns, both of whom have learned to deal with The Master's dictums in different ways. Hatchet-faced Charles Lane plays a director who becomes Barrymore's theatrical blood rival. Edgar Kennedy burnishes his few scenes as a private eye who's no match for an enraged Lombard. Handsome Englishman Ralph Forbes plays against type as a spoiled society boy who thinks he's in love with Lombard. And for sheer looniness there's chittering little Etienne Girardot, playing a benignly mad gentleman wandering about the train plastering large REPENT stickers on every available surface.
Movie mavens will recognize Herman Bing & Lee Kohlmar as the uncredited & hilarious Passion Players from Oberammergau.
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