DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Twentieth Century

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Aaron Silverman, Feb 20, 2005.

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  1. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    [​IMG]
    Twentieth Century[​IMG]

    US Theatrical Release: May 3, 1934 (Columbia)
    US DVD Release: February 22, 2005
    Running Time: 1:31:08 (12 chapter stops)
    Rating: None (Contains some racial stereotypes and sexual innuendo, but is basically suitable for all audiences)
    Video: 1.33:1 Academy (black & white)
    Audio: English DD1.0
    Subtitles: English, Japanese
    TV-Generated Closed Captions: English
    Menus: Not animated
    Packaging: Standard keepcase; no insert.
    MSRP: $19.94

    THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 4/5

    The screwball comedies of the 1930s blended fast-paced, goofy physical humor with more sophisticated cleverness. Twentieth Century, a tale of two hams surrounded by colorful character actors, is one of the best-regarded examples of the genre.

    Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore, in a brilliantly loony performance) is a Broadway producer -- no, a Broadway Producer -- with a magic touch. His shows are always hits. He's a respected and intimidating member of the theatrical community -- and an eccentric's eccentric. Every word out of his mouth is infused with melodrama.

    When Jaffe decides that a young lingerie model from Hoboken named Mildred Plotka (Carole Lombard) is going to be a star, regardless of the fact that no one else can see one whit of talent in her, then by gum, she's going to be a star! And sure enough, a little of that ol' Jaffe magic leads to fame and fortune for Mildred, now blessed with the stage name "Lily Garland" (courtesy, of course, of Oscar).

    Jump ahead three years, and Lily has become a class-A diva. (One can only speculate as to how much of that is due to her success and how much is due to the influence of her mentor.) However, she still can't hold a candle to the galactically egotistical Oscar, who watches her every move like a hawk, even going so far as to hire detectives to follow her.

    A phone tap is the last straw, and Lily bolts for the golden promise of Hollywood. With her goes the Oscar Jaffe magic, and as her star rises, Jaffe loses everything. A series of Garland-free flops leaves him badly in debt, while a series of Jaffe-free films leaves Lily on the covers of dozens of movie magazines. It seems as though the final curtain has closed on the legendary career of Oscar Jaffe. Or has it?

    By chance, Oscar and Lily wind up on the same train -- The Twentieth Century, bound for New York from Chicago. If Oscar can somehow convince her to come back to him and star in his greatest production yet, then perhaps he can get out of the hole. She's refused to answer $1800 worth of phone calls from him, but hey -- maybe a little face time will get him somewhere.

    Regardless of the logic (or lack thereof) of Oscar's machinations, they lead to plenty of laughs. Barrymore brings new meaning to the word "ham," and Lombard does her best to match his lunacy. The inspired supporting cast, featuring Walter Connolly as Jaffe's right-hand man Oliver Webb, and Roscoe Karns as soused reporter Owen O'Malley, adds to the fun. All do their best to keep the film's breakneck pace chugging along like the train of the title.

    Twentieth Century, despite its general wackiness, expects a little more sophistication from its audience than most of the humor produced in today's Hollywood. It's peppered with references to such esoteric subjects as the playwright Sardou and the Oberammergau Passion Play the way today's comedies drop cheap gags about bodily functions. It's refreshing to work the noggin a bit in between sight gags.

    On the other hand, some of the film is decidedly unsophisticated by modern standards. There are a few black actors on hand -- but those not playing train porters are portraying actors who play servants. While there is no overtly racist humor involved, some of the stereotypes may make 21st-Century viewers uncomfortable. And some of the jokes, like O'Malley's running penchant for talking like an American Indian (as seen in low-rent Westerns, that is), simply haven't aged well. For the most part, though, modern audiences should enjoy the majority of the material.


    THE WAY I SEE IT: 2.5/5

    The picture is very inconsistent. It's basically OK, but there are two issues that come and go. First, sections of the source print are in lousy shape. Some parts of the film are full of scratches and marks. On the other hand, some parts look pretty good. The second issue is edge enhancement -- some scenes are plagued with it, while others appear to lack it completely. It causes some high-contrast edges to exhibit purple halos that stand out like a sore thumb in the black and white image. Speaking of which, black levels are good, but could probably be a little better.

    I have a real love-hate relationship with the video of Twentieth Century. Some scenes look wonderful, while others make me wonder whether anyone gave it a QA viewing prior to release. Most fall somewhere in between.


    THE WAY I HEAR IT: 3.5/5

    The Dolby Digital mono mix does the job. There's just a bit of clipping, but it's not too distracting at normal volume levels. The audio often has a slight echo to it as well. I would guess that this track sounds very close to what the film's original audiences heard in decent theaters.


    THE SWAG: 0.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)

    Previews:

    Three trailers are included. They cannot be played individually; there is only a Play Previews button on the main menu, which plays all three in order (the chapter skip button will skip to the next one).
    • Strangers When We Meet (2:38) DD1.0; 2.2:1 anamorphic (color)
    • My Sister Eileen (2:53) DD1.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic (color)
    • You Were Never Lovelier (2:07) DD1.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic
    SUMMING IT ALL UP

    The Way I Feel About It: 4/5
    The Way I See It: 2.5/5
    The Way I Hear It: 3.5/5
    The Swag: 0.5/5


    Twentieth Century combines upper-class wit with inspired goofiness in a way not often seen in modern productions, which tend to be either artsy and intellectual or simplistic and lowbrow. If the drop of an unfamiliar name doesn't evoke a laugh, then it's only a matter of moments before John Barrymore's eyes bug out of his head beneath what can best be described as an unholy coif. There's some humor here for just about everyone. At the same time, some of the material doesn't play well for modern sensibilities. On the whole, however, the good outweighs the bad. The A/V quality isn't great, but it isn't lousy either. Those who have eagerly awaited this release should be reasonably satisfied, and those discovering the film for the first time won't be too distracted by video or audio issues. This is a respectable release.
     
  2. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    I believe the original negative to Twentieth Century is one of the many negs that were either partially or completely damaged in the big Columbia flood. It is not fair to blame QA or whatever you're calling quality control. I believe much of this film had to have a new neg cobbled together from various prints and dupe negs.
     
  3. AlexHL

    AlexHL Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the review, Aaron. Always great to have another Hawks-film on DVD. Mine is on its way.
     
  4. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Thanks for the info, Arthur. That's good to know.

    Keep in mind that some titles undergo extensive restoration work prior to release (as an example, the source elements for Star Wars looked far worse than any scene on this disc when they started working on that DVD), so regardless of damage, the *potential* exists for this film to look better.

    Now, I'm not expecting every studio to spend the money on restoring every film for home video, much as we'd love them to, but in terms of reviewing the PQ, I calls 'em like I sees 'em. [​IMG]
     
  5. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    While it would be nice if the transfer was Citizen Kane quality, I'll be happy just finally being able to get this movie on dvd, as long as it's watchable (i.e., not Madacy like).
     
  6. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    It is most assuredly of better-than-M*d*cy quality. [​IMG]
     
  7. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    I've had the DVD for a few weeks and have watched it twice. It's a great film, and the transfer is more than acceptable.

    The comparison to the elements of Star Wars is not really an apt one - they were, at least, going from the original negative material.

    Twentieth Century, as I said, has been cobbled together from a varitey of sources, almost none of which is original negative material. While they might have been able to remove some dirt and stuff, it could never look better than this because of the materials they have.

    But we're all making it sound worse than it is. It's the movie that counts and the DVD is very watchable.

    Barrymore gives one of the great comic performances in the history of cinema.

    Good review, too, Aaron.
     
  8. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Darn tootin'! [​IMG]
     
  9. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I cannot wait to get a chance to see this one myself, Aaron. Thanks for giving us a great review.
     
  10. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Aaron,
    There have been other Columbia dvd releases of films from that era that leave much to desire, so your review is not surprising to me. I've received my dvd last week, but I haven't watched it yet due to other dvd commitments. However, I'm going to watch it later this afternoon to see for myself and to judge this presentation to a prior Columbia dvd release like "The Awful Truth".






    Crawdaddy
     
  11. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Cool, let us know what you think.

    I have a number of older releases to write up, including a few coming out tomorrow and some of the April 5 westerns. I'm curious to see how they all compare.
     
  12. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    After watching this disc from beginning to end, I thought the video presentation wasn't as good as previously released Columbia dvds like "My Girl Friday"/"Only Angels Have Wings", but the video was better than "The Awful Truth"/"You Can't Take It With You" dvds. Overall, I'm satisfied with it and thought Barrymore's performance was so hammy that he made me laugh throughout the film again almost like the first time I've seen it. A very funny comedy that I can never get tired of watching!






    Crawdaddy
     
  13. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    I've watched the disc too, and I thought it looked like a pretty good transfer of a movie that is in less-than-optimal condition (as said earlier in the thread, the negative is long gone, whereas His Girl Friday was taken from the original negative and therefore looks much better). My problem with Columbia's treatment of it is more the lack of extras and that awful cover art. But what a movie! I can never watch it without going around quoting "ting-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling..." over and over again. Other great Oscar Jaffe moments:

    "Anathema! Child of Satan!"

    "A desert scene with a hundred camels..." (imitates a camel) "...and real sand brought from the Holy Land."

    "It's typical of my career that in the great crises of life, I should find myself flanked by two in-com-po-tent alcoholics."

    "You're too late -- Max Mandelbaum!" (the way Barrymore says "Max Mandelbaum" just cracks me up)
     
  14. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    When I watched it, I thought "well, that was good, but it wasn't a classic." Then I watched 2.5 more times while writing the review, and it was just as funny each time.

    Plus, it will go down in history as the movie after which Lucy said (I paraphrase) "you know, I really like old movies!" (I've introduced her to quite a few, and she always enjoys 'em, but this was her classic film epiphany!)

    As for detractors. . .I close the iron door on them!!! [​IMG]
     
  15. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Regarding the "big Columbia flood" referenced in this thread: when/where did this happen? I've heard of fires destroying negatives (notably the Fox fires of the late 30s and early 60s), but this flood story is new to me.

    Thanks,

    Steve
     
  16. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    If memory serves, I believe the flood happened in the late sixties/early seventies. Maybe Mr. Harris knows exactly when.
     
  17. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    The front cover art doen't bother me too much since the drama masks and the character expressions make it slightly more creative than the normal "big star head" cover, but the rear cover with the cheesy "image in star" graphics looks like it was done by one of the PD companies. Ah well, the play's the thing.

    Regards,
     
  18. BarryM

    BarryM Stunt Coordinator

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    Some of my all-time favorites 1930's films came from Columbia, and with the exception of their initial "Comedy Classics" series, all of the films I've bought on DVD (Awful Truth, Only Angels Have Wings, More The Merrier, and this one) are very disappointing quality-wise. They're not cheap either; always $20.00 list for a medicore print quality and absolutely no extras.

    If Warners owned this library, you can bet your bottom dollar that they'd do more with the source material and provide extras.

    Why in God's name did Columbia initiate their wonderful "Comedy Classics" series, then give it up and issue their wonderful films this way?

    I've heard that Columbia 'lost their shirts' on the "Comedy Classics" series....well, part of the problem was that Columbia had absolutely no idea how to market their titles. Do they include a checklist of other titles available in each box? Heck, no. Could you go to their website and click on "classics" and get a listing? Not on your tintype.

    A studio like Columbia (Sony) only has itself to blame for not being aware that many of us have a hard time even knowing what is available from a studio like this.

    There's just no reason why a major studio would release stuff that is on-par or below the quality set by indys like Artisan.

    Hopefully, someone at Sony will read this and get with da program!

    I love these Columbia titles, but golly, I wish they were better quality.
     

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