Tag Archives: Walter Connolly

Twentieth Century (1934, Howard Hawks)

Even with its way too abrupt finish, Twentieth Century is rare delight. Would it be more successful if the ending hadn’t wasted Carole Lombard? Yes, but also because it would’ve given lead John Barrymore more Lombard to act opposite and Barrymore’s best opposite Lombard. He’s amazing the whole time, but he’s best working with her. He aggravates him in just the right way. And, after time, she aggravates him in just the right way, which certainly hints at an amazing finish.

Sadly, no. Screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur kind of choke on it, though no doubt some of the fault lies with director (and producer) Hawks.

Anyway. Done with the negative verbiage. On to the reverse.

The film opens with a stage production doing a rehearsal; it’s model Lombard’s first attempt at acting. The director, Charles Lane, and the theatre accountant, Walter Connolly, don’t think much of her. They think boss and Broadway wunderkind Barrymore just hired her because of her looks. Just before Barrymore arrives on stage to take over the film introduces Roscoe Karns as Barrymore’s drunkard newspaper stooge, who’s there to profile Lombard. For about ten minutes, it’s just Barrymore going nuts directing Lombard through the rehearsal. He’s mean (though not cruel), manipulative, rude, and utterly hilarious. Barrymore gnaws at the scene, practically snapping at the air over Lombard’s shoulders. The scene starts with them apart, ends with them intwined, Hawks and editor Gene Havlick really focusing on how the two actors pace off the other. The air is thick with chemistry.

Even if Lombard doesn’t quite realize it yet.

Because Barrymore’s not just interested in creating a successful contract player in Lombard, he’s looking for love. The “seduction” scene is where Barrymore goes from being a hilarious tyrant to a personable, hilarious tyrant. The film has three time frames. The first opens the film; Lombard and Barrymore getting together, realizing greater success because of their collaborations. Then three years later when things have hit the skids. Then another three years later, post-skids, with one far more successful than the other. That last part is the majority of the film. It’s also where the title comes in—they’re on the 20th Century Limited, on the way from Chicago to New York. The first two phases have a lot of Lombard and Barrymore together. There’s some more character establishing with the supporting cast, Connolly and Karns in particular, as they’re going to be very important in the third phase, but it’s all about Lombard and Barrymore. Second phase is mostly more about Lombard. It’s where she’s got to show all the changes in her character over the last three years; what being around Barrymore will do to an intimate partner as well as creative partner. It’s where Lombard gets to let loose almost as much as Barrymore.

Whenever the film’s Lombard or Barrymore, it’s that rare delight. Barrymore manages to get more eccentric by the third phase, set almost entirely on train, while Lombard finally gets to match him. Much of the film is spent either laughing or grinning while preparing to laugh again. Hecht and MacArthur’s script does a fantastic job building up jokes, particularly in the third section, particularly with troublesome train passenger Etienne Girardot. Girardot is a great C plot, which ties into the A plot, but also provides some real texture to the train. He gives the supporting cast something to focus on, giving them their own story arcs. The film is always bustling, as sometimes Lombard and Barrymore need to take a break. They’re both very busy; in character and performance.

Connolly and Karns get a bunch more to do in the third phase, as they’re trying to save Barrymore from himself, which means intruding on Lombard, who’s got her own things going on with fresh beau and stuffed shirt Ralph Forbes. At some point in the second half, it almost feels like Connolly and Karns’s movie. It doesn’t last for long, as they have to involve Barrymore in their activities, but then it becomes the Barrymore, Connolly, and Karns show. Lombard gets downgraded.

Just as the film finally starts remedying Lombard’s reduced station and bringing her back up, giving her some great scenes with Barrymore, the movie stops. Maybe Hecht and MacArthur ran out of ideas to give Barrymore and Lombard something to riff on, but the film needs just a little more. Five minutes maximum. It’s not like Lombard or Barrymore give any signs of slowing, even as Connolly and Karns are literally passing out by this time.

But it’s a magnificent ride to that abrupt finish. And it works, it just doesn’t transcend.

Good editing from Havlick, good photography from Joseph H. August, excellent direction from Hawks. Barrymore and Lombard are wondrous. Twentieth Century is awesome.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Howard Hawks; screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, based on a play by Charles Bruce Millholland; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Gene Havlick; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring John Barrymore (Oscar Jaffe), Carole Lombard (Mildred Plotka), Walter Connolly (Oliver Webb), Roscoe Karns (Owen O’Malley), Ralph Forbes (George Smith), Charles Lane (Max Jacobs), and Etienne Girardot (Matthew J. Clark).



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Libeled Lady (1936, Jack Conway)

Libeled Lady suffers from a few things, but it’s hard to pinpoint what doesn’t work about the film because there are so many things working well. There’s a great William Powell slapstick fishing scene in the film, there’s a great wedding scene where the husband gets a peck and the best man gets a passionate kiss, there’s even a nice courtship between Powell and Myrna Loy, except Powell’s married to Jean Harlow and Loy is suing Harlow’s boyfriend, played by Spencer Tracy. The problem stems from not knowing what to do with Harlow. Libeled Lady is a ninety-eight minute comedy with four major stars, it having focusing problems isn’t even in question….

The film opens with Harlow and Tracy and it stays with Tracy for a bit, introducing Powell in a great way, but up until that introduction (and even immediately following) Libeled Lady is a newspaper comedy. This genre has disappeared, but it was prevalent in the 1930s. I’ve read the early talkie screenwriters were newspaper reporters, explaining the newspaper office as a frequent setting and the reporter as a dedicated hero. But then it turns and becomes an odd Myrna Loy-William Powell comedy, one where you really miss W.S. Van Dyke behind the camera. When Tracy and Harlow return to the film, Harlow has become superfluous. It’s not a traditional comedy–there are different expectations and responsibilities. It’s a little more serious. The audience comes to like Loy (or Loy warms to Powell and the audience warms to Loy while Powell in conflict). But, Powell never reveals the full extent of his subterfuge to Loy when the audience gets to see (again turning the film’s focus to Harlow and Tracy). There isn’t a scene because it doesn’t work with that returning focus to Harlow’s side of the story.

It’s a lot of fun, and Tracy is really good in the opening. He and Powell have a good repartee going too, but we only get to see it once. Harlow and Powell were together at the time and the chemistry cares over to celluloid, but it’s also a Powell and Loy film, which causes a disconnect. I think it’s in Myrna Loy’s biography–when Loy had a cameo in The Senator Was Indiscreet as Powell’s long-unseen wife, it wasn’t even a question for audiences she would be the wife–it was expected. It doesn’t help the film perturbs Harlow’s character arc to fit that clean ending or makes Tracy so ineffectual in the second half–though the scene with him running across a foyer is delightful. It’s in an awkward part of the film, but Tracy’s fun translates well.

It’s good. It is. It’s just the problems are more visible then they should be….

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Conway; screenplay by Maurine Dallas Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers and George Oppenheimer, based on a story by Wallace Sullivan; director of photography, Norbert Brodine; edited by Fredrick Y. Smith; music by William Axt; produced by Lawrence Weingarten; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Jean Harlow (Gladys), William Powell (Bill Chandler), Myrna Loy (Connie Allenbury), Spencer Tracy (Haggerty), Walter Connolly (Mr. Allenbury), Charley Grapewin (Mr. Bane) and Cora Witherspoon (Mrs. Burns-Norvell).


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