Twentieth Century 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.