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December 02, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

****Excellent ***Good

**Ordinary *Poor

Recent videocassette releases, reviewed by Times critics.

Movies **** "Twentieth Century."

RCA/Columbia. $69.95. 1934.

On a Chicago-to-New York train ride, the megalomaniacal Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe is pursuing his erstwhile Galatea and biggest star, Lily Garland, who has committed the unforgivable blasphemy of ditching him and defecting to (horrors!) Hollywood. Also aboard are Jaffe's frequently soused retinue and assorted detectives and oddballs--including one religious maniac who keeps pasting "End of the World" stickers on everyone's back. Oscar is determined to beg, wheedle, scream, threaten and grovel to get Lily back under contract. Lily is equally determined to keep her contract and sylph-like shape out of Oscar's clutches. And while this pair dance a crazy entrechat , the Twentieth Century Limited keeps racing toward Manhattan. If John Barrymore was always a bit of a ham, here, as Jaffe, he surpasses himself, turning scenery-chewing into a new art form. It's a performance of lunatic grandeur. Lombard's Lily, which made her a top star, is luminously daffy. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's script crackles; Howard Hawks' direction blazes.

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