The Scoundrel

Cora is wooed by Anthony Mallare

The Scoundrel is a gift from two great writers to Noël Coward, a chance for the playwright, screenwriter, director, actor and impresario to do his thing in a Hollywood setting for a change, rather than on the stages of Broadway or London’s West End. A highly epigrammatic, almost drawing-room dramedy, it’s high in tone from the opening credits onwards, with the spirit of Oscar Wilde (still a living memory to many in 1935 when this was made) hovering waspishly over the entire production, the tale of an utter scoundrel (Coward) being served. It’s Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur writing, producing and directing. Two of the very greatest screenplay writers, Hecht and MacArthur wrote … Read more

Twentieth Century

John Barrymore and Carole Lombard

Named after the New York to Chicago train and designed to be just as sleek, fast and modern, Twentieth Century is a brilliant Howard Hawks screwball comedy that’s been slightly overshadowed by other brilliant Howard Hawks screwball comedies, like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. In art-imitates-life style, it tells the A Star Is Born story of one person in the ascendant and another on the decline, with Carole Lombard in the role that made her name, and John Barrymore pausing momentarily as he transited from movie godhood to a very mortal early death. Both are brilliant, but Barrymore is perhaps even better than Lombard, as Oscar Jaffe, a stage impresario with … Read more

Design for Living

George and Tom and Gilda

One of those pre-Code 1930s comedies that comes wrapped in an aura, Design for Living can’t live up to the sell. It’s not funny, though there is the odd smirk, nor perceptive, unless a comedy about the fickleness of women is what you’re after The aura comes virtue of the boys in the backroom. Noel Coward wrote the original play, then Ben Hecht came in and threw most of that away while working on his screen adaptation, in the process turning Coward’s urbane posh gents into a couple of impetuous workaday types – the Time Out London review called it a “tea cups to beer glasses” transformation, and that’s a neatly pithy way … Read more