Originally, I was going to write a double feature for The Sixth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon by reviewing Twentieth Century and Young at Heart. However, due to technical difficulties on my end, I was only able to find the time to publish one review. Because I’ve written about five of Frank Sinatra’s movies this year, I chose to take a break by selecting Twentieth Century. Back in January, I watched and reviewed In Name Only for The Carole Lombard Memorial Blogathon. At the time, it was my first time seeing any film from Carole’s filmography. Despite this, I ended up liking the film! As I have mentioned before, I try to feature movies on my blog that were recommended by visitors and followers of 18 Cinema Lane. Twentieth Century was suggested by Patricia from Caftan Woman and Vincent from Carole & Co.
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: In my review of In Name Only, I praised Carole’s portrayal of Julie Eden, as her on-screen personality was down-to-earth and her overall performance contained the right amount of emotion. Carole portrays Lily in Twentieth Century, a character who is very different from Julie in In Name Only. This is because Lily experiences frustration on several occasions. One example is when Lily is forced to stay late at rehearsal because Oscar wants her to scream. Lily’s emotions spill over, causing her to yell and burst into tears because of her pent-up frustration. These emotions were able to be felt through the screen because of how good Carole Lombard’s talents were in this film! Speaking of Oscar, I liked watching John Barrymore’s performance in Twentieth Century! It showed a transition from a theater director who seemed to have his heart in the right place to a man who let power and influence get to his head. After Lily’s first performance on stage, Oscar visits her in her dressing room. The way he speaks to her indicates he is putting all his attention on her. But when you look and listen closely, there are hints of his possessive mentality. A good example is when Oscar tells Lily she was a diamond who needed some polishing.
The set design: While watching Twentieth Century, there was some impressive set design I noticed! Toward the beginning of the film, Oscar’s office was shown. Dark wood walls surrounded the space, with a medium shot signifying the room’s high ceiling. Eye-catching details helped give the space a unique identity, such as the inclusion of a suit of armor and stained-glass windows. Details in other scenes stood out, stealing the show whenever they appeared on screen. Lily’s bed is just one example, a massive piece of furniture that was shaped like a boat. It’s white woodwork and bedding is paired beautifully with dark wood carvings on the bed. On the train, there are sketches of animals located near the ceiling of the sitting room area. The style of the sketches looked like they came from a storybook from Medieval times.
Carole’s wardrobe: I really liked seeing Carole’s wardrobe in Twentieth Century! However, there were two outfits that were the most memorable! On the night of Lily’s first performance, she wears an off the shoulder sparkly white dress. Despite the film being presented in black-and-white, the sparkly nature of the dress shown through beautifully! The second outfit was a silk pair of pajamas, complete with fine detailing on the shirt. The pajamas complimented Carole very well, highlighting her true beauty!
What I didn’t like about the film:
The mystery: In Twentieth Century, there was an on-going mystery revolving around the appearance of religious stickers on the train. The mystery itself felt randomly placed in the overall story, offering no strong significance within the plot. Had the religious stickers served as a reminder to not lose personal beliefs and values in the quest for fame and fortune, that would have added a meaningful moral to the movie. Sadly, it was a small piece just to keep the plot moving forward. When the guilty party is finally revealed, it seems like the script is providing them with excuses for their destruction of public and personal property. This can be heard through the characters’ dialogue; from the train security saying the guilty party has a “sickness” to describing the guilty party as “a little crazy, but harmless”.
An awful group of characters: I understand characters from any movie are not going to be everyone’s “cup of tea”. However, there is a fine line between personal preference and the characters themselves being awful. Twentieth Century is a perfect example of this, featuring a host of characters that are unlikeable to varying degrees. Oscar treats everyone around him horribly. He “fires” his friends on multiple occasions and he is abusive toward Lily, even after their relationship ends. Despite this, Oscar’s friends still try to help him fix his relationship with Lily, even going so far as to blame her for Oscar’s failures. Meanwhile, Lily turns into a diva after she becomes a movie star. It got to the point where I found myself not caring about the characters’ outcomes because their ugly personalities made me lost investment in them.
Lily and Oscar’s abusive relationship: I briefly mentioned in my previous point that Oscar is abusive toward Lily, even after their relationship ends. In the beginning, when Lily was starting out as an actress, Oscar gives the impression of having her best interests in mind. An example of this is when, after Lily expresses her frustrations over staying late at rehearsal, Oscar reminds her of her dream and how he’ll help her reach that dream. As Lily’s career grows, so does Oscar’s jealousy and obsession. He not only controls Lily’s life, but he also physically harms her, poking her with a pin just to get her to scream on stage. Oscar even goes so far as to threaten suicide if Lily does not stay with him. Even though Lily ends the relationship, Oscar is still obsessed with her. One of his worst actions in Twentieth Century is faking his own death just to trick Lily into signing his contract.
My overall impression:
Back in January, when I reviewed Marriage on the Rocks, I said the film made me feel uncomfortable because of the movie’s one-sided view on marriage and divorce. Watching Twentieth Century made me appalled for several reasons. The abusive nature of Lily and Oscar’s relationship is just one example, especially since it exists throughout the whole film. It also doesn’t help that Oscar doesn’t face any accountability for his actions and behavior. Another issue is the characters themselves, as all of them are horrible to certain degrees. Despite being poorly treated by Oscar, Oscar’s friends still support him. They even encourage Oscar to get back together with Lily. According to IMDB and Wikipedia, Twentieth Century is labeled as a “romantic comedy”. I will admit there were a handful of moments I found funny. But the aforementioned relationship, random mystery, terrible characters, and the story being ninety one minutes of those same characters complaining about their personal issues overshadows all of the movie’s strengths.
Overall score: 4.4 out of 10
Have you seen any of Carole Lombard’s or John Barrymore’s films? If so, which one do you like the most? Please let me know in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!
5 thoughts on “Take 3: Twentieth Century Review”
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Your reaction to “Twentieth Century” — a film I had recommended to you during the Carole Lombard Memorial Blogathon — caught me off-guard, to say the least. I wrote a constructive response in today’s Carole & Co. entry, https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/1147674.html, and certainly hope you will examine other Lombard movies that may better suit your sensibilities. Happy new year!
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Hello Vincent! I just read your article. From my experience in movie blogging, I’ve realized that comedy is subjective. ‘Twentieth Century’ is not the only well-liked comedy I have placed on a worst of the year list, as ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ was another film I didn’t like. In your article, you do bring up a good point about the film’s release. After learning more about the Breen Code, I automatically associate the year 1934 to the Breen Code. However, I have to remind myself that the Code itself started in the middle of that year.
Even though I disliked ‘Twentieth Century’, I still plan on watching more of Carole’s films. In fact, your recommendations of ‘My Man Godfrey’ and ‘Hands Across the Table’ are still on my movie recommendations board on Pinterest. I do appreciate you taking the time to read my worst movies of the year list.
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