Thursday, October 6, 2011

Carole Lombard - Twentieth Century - What Goes Good With Ham?

This is my contribution to the Carole-tennial (Plus 3) blogathon, sponsored by Carole and Company from October 6-9. Click here to view the 4-day day all-about-Carole roll call!
Ham and Applesauce - great together!
"Since most hams are a bit salty even after soaking /scrubbing / roasting, I'd go with a couple of slightly sweet (naturally that is) dishes and at least one tart and one somewhere in the middle."  - Googled reply to the question "What goes good with ham?"
Sharing the screen with the world's biggest soaked, scrubbed and roasted ham (otherwise known as John Barrymore) is no easy feat, especially when the salty old ham rallied to the top of his main course form. But side dishes can be a great compliment to the main course, as in the case of naturally slightly sweet and tart Carole Lombard in 1934's "Twentieth Century."

Since most hams are hogs, the great JB does tend to overpower the proceedings. But little Carole, in her first great comedic role after years of thankless glamour-puss and boring leading-lady roles, takes a page from the master, asserts herself right into the center of things and gives the old boy a real run for his money. And like the old thoroughbred he is, he ups his game to the finish line.

The Story

The film, written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and directed by Howard Hawks, tells the story of Broadway producer/director/impresario Oscar "OJ" Jaffe, a Belasco-like egomaniac of epic proportions. As a sly reference to Barrymore's earlier hit, "Svengali," Oscar takes a no-talent little model named Mildred Plotka (Carole) and, through sheer will and ego, proves that he can transform a Plotka into a Lily Garland, great star of the stage. Turns out, she is a willing subject. Their association starts off well, with OJ and Lily making hit after hit, as well as love. However, as her fame and ego grows, Lily tires of OJ's possessive and domineering ways. She breaks free from him and becomes a great movie star. Meanwhile, OJ flounders without her and hits the skids. What is a megalomaniac to do?

Luckily for Oscar and the audience, he and Lily end up on the same train, the Twentieth Century Limited traveling from Chicago to New York. OJ sees this as his last chance to get into Lily's good graces and use her fame for another hit show. Mayhem and madness and mirth ensue, Oscar gets his way (through outrageous duplicity) and Lily is once again on Broadway, appearing in an Oscar Jaffe production.

Making Love and Making War
I love the chemistry between Lombard and Barrymore in this film. They make love and war with equal passion. They are both flamboyant, dramatic divas who blur the lines between heat and hate. Carole's Lily squeals, kicks, bites, claws, and coos, while JB's OJ declares his love and peddles his lies and double-dealing shenanigans with an equally grandiose sweep of the hand and piercing gaze. She's a sentimental and self-absorbed mess and he is as slippery and slimy as a gallon of snake oil. Boy, are they fun!

Favorite Scenes

Barrymore and Carole's scene where he describes how he will star her in a Broadway version of the Passion Play is hysterical. "Sand from the holy land!" She almost buys it, but not quite.

Carole telling her dull-as-dishwater boyfriend George Smith (Ralph Forbes) that she is too good for him:

George Smith: And you wanted my respect!
Lily Garland: Who cares about respect? I'm too big to be respected! The men I've known have understood that.
George Smith: Men you've known? Jaffe, you mean.
Lily Garland: Yes, Jaffe. He'll tell you what I am: a first-class passenger entitled to privileges! 
George Smith: oh, and artist!
Lily Garland: You're darn tootin' I am!

She pulls out all of the stops, but he has already left the room. All that drama and no audience!

My favorite scene is the one where Oscar pretends to be dying and connives Lily into signing a contract. He is over the top nutty, adorable, flamboyant and hysterical. It's really his scene, but Carole matches him in her overblown histrionics and utter outrage when she finds out he'll live.

Comments from Her Director and Co-Star
Howard Hawks, Carole and JB
Howard Hawks: "Marvelous girl. Crazy as a bedbug."
John Barrymore: "She is perhaps the greatest actress I ever worked with." Imagine JOHN BARRYMORE saying that!
I think Carole Lombard appreciated both sentiments!

Afterward: One Door Closing, Another Opening
While Barrymore was in the throes of his long decline, he still had a few more aces up his sleeve and this film brought out his best. Carole, on the other hand, stood on the threshold of a great career. This film proved her talent and that she was the genuine article - a star.

The Details
Twentieth Century (1934) - Columbia Pictures
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Howard Hawks
Writers: Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht (Uncredited: Gene Fowler, Preston Sturges); based on an unproduced play ("Napoleon of Broadway") written by Charles Bruce Millholland
Starring: John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Ralph Forbes, Charles Lane, Edgar Kennedy

The supporting cast is superlative. They lend perfect comedic support and make the 2 stars shine even brighter. There is a lot of yelling in this film, which sometimes makes me edgy, but it is all done in such high spirits and fun that I am truly sorry when that train finally pulls into the station.


VP81955 said...

Lombard always appreciated what Barrymore did for her. Three years later, when she was a full-fledged star and drink had caused Barrymore's career to decline, she made sure he received a supporting part (and third billing) in "True Confession," what would be her final film made at Paramount.

A nice entry, and a wonderful contribution to "Carole-tennial(+3)!"

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Vince. I'm off now to read the others.

Robin@DecoratingTennisGirl said...

Happy Birthday, Carole. You could walk in today and feel quite comfortable. You were so hip and modern.

FlickChick said...

Wasn't she? Effortless chic and the lightest of spirits.

Laura said...

This might just be my favorite screwball comedy. The chemistry between Lombard and Barrymore is magnetic. Wonderful review!

And I never knew Barrymore said that about Lombard! Man, if I'd been her, I'd have been high for weeks off that comment!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Laura. I really love them together. I have a real soft spot for JB, so when he;s good, I'm ga ga! Carole keeps pace with him, but I know I could have done a better job!

Laura said...

True that, FlickChick. Only the chemistry between the two of you would probably have made the Hayes board too uncomfortable.

FlickChick said...

That would have been fun getting in trouble for! :)

The Lady Eve said...

FlickChick - Love that you Googled to find out "what goes good with ham?" - a great opening for a great contribution to VP's blogathon...

ClassicBecky said...

FlickChick, you really gave a good picture of Barrymore on his way out and Carole on her way in -- and did it with humor and pathos. That impressed me. It's been a while since I saw this movie, but I remember liking it so much. when Barrymore pulled himself together, he was just wonderful, and Carole was a great foil for him. Boy is that white dress she wears in your first "favorite scene" an absolute knockout!

You really summed up the acting of both performers perfectly: "(Carole)...takes a page from the master, asserts herself right into the center of things and gives the old boy a real run for his money. And like the old thoroughbred he is, he ups his game to the finish line."

Excellent post!

KimWilson said...

For years I ignored this film and then one day decided to watch it and what a delight it was. You're quite right about Lombard matching Barrymore in this film. Both were hilarious in their roles. When people ask me what are some of the best films that take place on a train I always mention this one. Enjoyed reading your review.

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve- that was actually my inspiration for writing this post. I was a little stumped until I cam across that perfect description!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Becky. This movie really is JB's show, but a fine showcase for Carole. It was a great part and she ran with it. They had great chemistry.

FlickChick said...

Kim - I avoided it to - as I tend not to like frantic films, but the supporting cast is so good and they are such a great balance to the 2 leads that it creates quite a lovely train ride.

Inge Gregusch said...

Wonderful post about a fabulous film!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Inge - it's a fun one!

Flapper Flickers + Silent Stanzas said...

One of my all-time favorites. "I close the iron door!" Fell hopelessly in love with both Carole and Jack after watching it. ^_^

FlickChick said...

The script is just hilarious. It really elevates the film into the relam of classic - well, that and JB & Carole, too!

Page said...

The way you described this film was perfection! Barrymore, I can only imagine being cast opposite him. I suspect though while some actresses would be full of nerves, Carole would not have been fazed in the slightest.

I haven't seen this little gem in quite awhile but your colorful description of it makes me want to revisit it!

A fun contribution to the Carole-tennial.

FlickChick said...

Hey Page - thank you! I know this film featured Carole at the beginning of her comdic rise, but it's my favorite. She and JB were just sublime!

Rachel said...

One thing I liked about this film was the casual way it reveals that Jaffe and Lily are sleeping together but makes it clear that it isn't romance that gives them a thrill. They'll just never have a better audience than each other. It's like Henry Higgins and Eliza, except with sex, trains, and a lot more screaming.

Wonderful post, FlickChick, even by your high standards.

FlickChick said...

Rachel - Henry & Eliza with sex (and a train)- that is great! Thanks for liking my post.

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Too much screaming, too much talking. This film was a labour to get through. Great cast, fantastic director, some very funny lines but a chore to watch.