Howard Hawks

Sog.: dalla commedia omonima di Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, adattata da Napoleon on Broadway di Charles Bruce Milholland; Scen.: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur; F.: Joseph H. August, Joseph Walker; Mo.: Gene Havlick; Su.: Edward Bernds; Ass. regia: Charles C. Coleman; Int.: John Barrymore (Oscar Jaffe), Carole Lombard (Mildred Plotka alias Lily Garland), Walter Connolly (Oliver Webb), Roscoe Karns (Owen O’Malley), Ralph Forbes (George Smith), Dale Fuller (Sadie), Etienne Girardot (Matthew G. Clark), Herman Bing (primo attore barbuto), Lee Kohlmar (secondo attore barbuto), James P. Burtis (controllore del treno), Billie Seward (Anita), Charles Levison (Max Jacobs), Mary Jo Mathews (Emmy Lou), Edgard Kennedy (McGonigle), Gigi Parrish (Schultz), Fred Kelsey (detective); Prod.: Howard Hawks per Columbia Pictures Corporation; Pri. pro.: 3 maggio 1934
35mm. D.: 91′. Bn

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

The birth of screwball. Pauline Kael actually defined it as “a hardboiled farce”, and Twentieth Century has a hard heart, a mocking spirit and a cynical contempt for romanticism. It appears to be a film about theater, a consolidated sub-genre of the times, but it is really a movie about theatricality as gift, vice or curse, not interpreted by chance by John Barrymore, who was the quintessential example of it on stage and on the screen. Twentieth Century was a comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, written and performed in 1932; they “drew their inspiration for the main character from the three giants of Broadway: Jed Harris, Morris Gest and David Belasco” (Barbara Grespi), and it was their greatest success after The Front Page. The same writers adapted it for film, breaking up the settings. As a play it began on the train, on film Oscar and Lily meet, fall in love and break up in a long prologue between the theater and hotel rooms, which Hawks used to liven up the characters and radicalize the relationship: John Barrymore is a seductive impresario and braggart, who looks like he has seen both the sacred fire and an alcoholic coma, while Carole Lombard is a country girl shaped by a despotic Pygmalion who takes off for Hollywood – an a-star-is-born variant with unforgiving derision of all sentimentality. Barrymore has to get Lombard back, and their histrionic war is fought on the Twentieth-Century-Limited, a train as luxurious as a grand hotel and sparkling with modernity. Twentieth Century received a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences (which in the Depression of 1934 decidedly preferred the heartening populism of It Happened One Night) but later was given masterpiece status by Andrew Sarris, who in the 1960s defined it as a foundational work arguing that it was the first comedy in which comic weight was pulled not by character actors but by the leading of the romance. In Italy, Pietro Bianchi was the first to re-evaluate the film.

Paola Cristalli

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