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20<sup>th</sup> Century (1934)


Kid Dabb
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It's a pleasure to watch John Barrymore in this film as he chases after Carole Lombard. Reminds me of Anton Walbrook's pursuit of Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes.

 

Before I had seen this film for the first time the only Barrymores I was familiar with were his brother and sister.. Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, both of whom I have enjoyed over the years. Seeing John for the first time in this film was a real treat.

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I'm a Barrymore fan and John is definitely my fave of the clan. Love him in 20th CENTURY & THE GREAT MAN VOTES.

 

My film group screened 20th CENTURY last year and whenever Mr Teek needs to be reminded "who's John Barrymore?" I just say in a little voice, "Ting-a-ling-a ling"

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As much as I love watching Lombard and especially Barrymore in 20th Century, I feel that special tribute should also be paid to the wonderful performances of Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns as Oscar Jafee/Barrymore's long suffering assistants. They bring the voices of reason and cynicism to the screwball proceedings, a much needed sense of balance to the craziness of the two lead characters.

 

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20th Century, though a financial disappointment at the time of its release and completely overlooked when it came to Oscar nominations (Columbia putting all its push behind It Happened One Night that year), is the film that turned around Carole Lombard's career with the discovery that she could play comedy.

 

Sadly, it is also the last film of significance made by John Barrymore before his career went over the cliff because of his alcoholism. After a stay in a sanitarium through much of 1935, he would return to the movies, in supporting roles in "A" productions or the lead in "B"s in which he performed, to an increasing degree, self parodies as a ham and a drunk.

 

Lombard's early comedy scenes shot for 20th Century were, apparently, pretty bad. She was too actressy, too in control for the crazy comedy, with both director Howard Hawks and Barrymore holding their noses over what she was doing on screen.

 

She was then asked by Hawks what she would do in real life if someone treated her like Oscar Jaffe does in the movie, to which the fiesty Lombard replied that she would kick him in the balls. Exactly!, she was coached by Hawks with Barrymore's approval. Between Hawks and Barrymore, Lombard was coached to "be herself" on screen in 20th Century.

 

Three years later, with Lombard on top of the Hollywood heap as a great star, and with Barrymore considered a sad self destructive ruin, she insisted that he have a key supporting role in another comedy of her's, True Confession. Lombard felt that she owed John B. a debt, and she clearly demonstrated her loyalty to him on that occasion. There was nothing, of course, that she or anyone else could do to prevent the "Great Profile" from continuing his physical and emotional downward spiral through booze.

 

Barrymore's very public decline and descent came to its inevitable sad conclusion in May, 1942, just four months after the world had been shocked at the news of the vivacious Lombard's death in an airplane crash near Las Vegas.

 

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The original photo, which I assume was a part of Lombard's estate (perhaps it became Gable's property afterward?) - I wonder if it still exists. What a treasure that would be in anyone's collection (even if Barrymore did misspell the actress' first name).

 

Delicious irony, isn't it, that Oscar Jaffe guided Lily Garland into becoming a great star in 20th Century. Yet Barrymore (along with Hawks) was doing much the same thing with Lombard in the making of 20th Century.

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I suspect that it always bothered John Barrymore that he never received an acknowledgement of any kind from the Motion Picture Academy. And he gave a number of performances, I think - Svengali, Grand Hotel, Councillor at Law, 20th Century - that could have been Oscar nominated.

 

Somewhere I read that Barrymore once speculated that he suspected he didn't get an Oscar nomination because members of the Academy were afraid that he would show up drunk at the ceremony and embarrass everyone.

 

"But I really wouldn't have, you know," Barrymore said.

 

But there were a lot of politics involved, too. Louis B. Mayer regarded the Great Profile as a pain to have under contract and had no love for the man (the moguel wanted to please Lionel, who loved his brother, and was a longtime MGM contract player - but John's stay at the same studio only lasted about two years - I doubt Mayer would have pushed for him to get an Oscar).

 

As for 20th Century, as I stated earlier that film and everyone in it got shunned by Harry Cohn at Oscar time. He was pushing Capra's It Happened One Night (ironically featuring Lombard's future husband) so, once again, no nomination for the Great Profile.

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