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Film / Twentieth Century

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Oscar Jaffe: Go on, Owen, tell her I'm dying. And don't overact!

Twentieth Century is a 1934 comedy starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard and directed by Howard Hawks; although the name could suggest otherwisenote , this film was produced by Columbia Pictures.

Barrymore plays Oscar Jaffe, a Broadway producer who plucks a lingerie model named Mildred Plotka (Lombard) from obscurity, gives her the stage name Lily Garland, and makes her a star. They fall in love. The film then cuts to three years later, revealing that their relationship has soured due to Jaffe's maniacal jealousy. After Lily catches a private eye hired by Jaffe in the act of monitoring her phone calls, she leaves him, heads out to Hollywood, and makes it big as a film actress. Jaffe's career tanks, but he's given one last chance to rescue his situation when, while riding the train from Chicago to New York, he finds out that Lily is on board the same train.

The last big role for Barrymore, who had been a star since the early silent film days but whose career went into decline due to his alcoholism. On the other hand, a Star-Making Role for Lombard, who would specialize in comic romances like this one, appearing in several classics before her untimely death in a plane crash in 1942. Twentieth Century did poorly at the box office but has since been recognized as helping establish the Screwball Comedy film genre. It was inducted in the National Film Registry in 2011.


  • Ambiguously Jewish: Oscar rags on rival producer Max Jacobs for changing his name from "Max Mandelbaum".
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Lily is painfully inexperienced when Oscar brings her onstage in the opening scene to rehearse a play.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Oscar's assistant Oliver Webb (Walter Connelly) begs Oscar to replace Lily in the play due to her bad acting, then says "I always knew you could do it!" to Lily after she is a smash hit in said play.
    • Oscar promises Lily he isn't going to be jealous and controlling anymore, and then immediately gets a private detective to tap her phones.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Oscar and Lily ending up in neighboring cabins at the same train comes very convenient for the plot.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Oscar. He employs detectives to spy on Lily and even has her phone line tapped. It backfires on him when she finds out and instantly leaves for Hollywood.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Lily complains about the way Oscar treats her during rehearsal.
    Lily: No man living can kick me around for eight hours until I can't see straight. I'm a human being, do you hear? A human being.
  • Disposable FiancĂ©: Lily has a boyfriend when she gets on the train, but Oscar dispatches him pretty easily.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Done in-universe when Oscar jabs Lily with a pin to get an authentic scream out of her.
  • Get Out!: This line is used by Oscar when evicting Max Mandelbaum from his play and later by Lily when evicting Oscar from her train cabin.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Oscar's jealousy drives Lily away.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    Lily: Oh I've died so often, made love so often on the stage.
  • Held Gaze: Between Oscar and Lily in her changing room.
  • Here We Go Again!: The last scene has Oscar and Lily rehearsing the same play they were at the beginning, with Oscar giving the same talk, though this time his "I love you all" clearly means more to Lily. Lampshaded by Owen O'Malley.
    Owen O'Malley: Here we go again, Oliver. With Livingstone through darkest Africa.
  • Hypocritical Humor: "I despise temperament!" Sure you do, Lily.
  • Impossibly-Low Neckline: The dress Lily is wearing in Oscar's play does heroic service.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: An in-universe Executive example. Oscar is such a tremendous egomaniac that his production of The Heart of Kentucky is advertised this way, excluding both the cast and playwright:
    OPENING Sept. 25th
    Mr. OSCAR JAFFE Announces a New Play
    Personally Supervised by MR. JAFFE
    With a Typical
    JAFFE CAST To be Presented at the
    JAFFE THEATRE The play:
    The Heart of Kentucky
    by E.A. Burns
    "An OSCAR JAFFE Production is a guarantee of wit and genius in the theatre."
    Percy Winters, N.Y. Times
  • Large Ham: Oscar acts this way all the time. Lily calls him on it, calling him "Cheap ham!" as he's theatrically threatening to kill himself.
  • Lingerie Scene: That bra-and-panties ensemble that Lombard wears in her apartment would never have been allowed if this film had been made just a little bit later, after Hollywood cracked down on The Hays Code.
  • The Prima Donna: Lily has turned into one after three successful years in Hollywood.
  • Production Posse: In-universe. Oscar and Lily had great success as a director/lead actress combo.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The opening theme music is exactly the same waltz Columbia used for It Happened One Night from the same year.
  • Right Behind Me: At her apartment, Lily vents about Oscar only to notice him having entered the room behind her back.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Lampshaded — Oscar and Lily kiss in her dressing room after the play's a hit, she embraces him, she says "Don't leave me!", and he pushes the dressing room door shut with his foot.
  • Stage Name: Mildred Plotka to Lily Garland.
  • The Svengali: Oscar wants to be this, which Lily lampshades when she says "I'm no Trilby!".
  • Those Two Guys: Oscar's two bumbling assistants, the nervous, jittery Oliver and the Deadpan Snarker Owen O'Malley (Roscoe Karns).
  • Time Skip: Three years after the play's a hit, to demonstrate that the bloom is off the relationship, and then another time skip of unclear duration that establishes that Lily has become a big movie star while Oscar's career as a theater producer is in the toilet.
  • Title Drop / Vehicle Title: The train to New York is the 20th Century Limited, which was a real train.
  • Watching the Reflection Undress: Owen O'Malley (and the audience) sees Lily Toplessness from the Back in the mirror when she dresses up for the evening out.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Oscar fools the police at the train station in a disguise using a wig, whiskers and a fake nose.