Dinner at Eight (1933 film)

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Dinner at Eight
Dinner at Eight cph.3b52734.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Produced byDavid O. Selznick
Screenplay byFrances Marion
Herman J. Mankiewicz
Additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart
Based onDinner at Eight
1932 play
by George S. Kaufman
Edna Ferber
StarringMarie Dressler
John Barrymore
Wallace Beery
Jean Harlow
Lionel Barrymore
Lee Tracy
Edmund Lowe
Billie Burke
Music byWilliam Axt
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byBen Lewis
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
August 29, 1933 (1933-08-29)
Running time
113 minutes
111 min (Turner library print)
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$435,000[1]
Box office$2,156,000[1]

Dinner at Eight is a 1933 American pre-Code comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor. Adapted to the screen by Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz, from George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's 1932 play of the same title, it features an ensemble cast of Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe and Billie Burke.

Dinner at Eight continues to be acclaimed by critics; as of August 2020, review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 90% approval among 20 critics.[2]

Plot[edit]

New York society matron Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) receives word that Lord and Lady Ferncliffe have accepted her invitation to dinner. She is overjoyed by this social coup, but her husband Oliver (Lionel Barrymore), a shipping magnate, finds Lord Ferncliffe a bore. Their daughter, Paula (Madge Evans) is preoccupied with the impending return of her fiancé from Europe, Ernest DeGraff (Phillips Holmes).

Oliver asks Millicent to invite legendary stage actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), who has just arrived from Europe. Carlotta comes to his office, and they reminisce; Oliver once asked her to marry him, waiting to propose on his 21st birthday, because she was "thirtyish." When she refused his proposal, he turned to work. In her heyday, Carlotta's lovers showered her with stock and gems. The Jordan stock was the only one she paid for herself, and now forced to sell, Oliver lacks the funds. His business was struck hard by the stock market crash of the Great Depression. Magnate Dan Packard (Wallace Beery), a former miner, agrees to consider helping Oliver, but later brags to his wife, Kitty (Jean Harlow), that he plans to take over Jordan Shipping.

Oliver convinces Millicent to invite the Packards. Kitty Packard is young, attractive, socially ambitious, yet ill-mannered, and eagerly accepts the invitation. Dan refuses to go but changes his mind when he finds out that Lord Ferncliffe, “the richest man in England” will be in attendance.

On the morning of her dinner, Millicent loses her extra man. She telephones Larry Renault (John Barrymore), a former silent screen star recently profiled in the newspaper, and extends a last-minute invitation, unaware that Paula is in his room.

Paula adores Larry and cannot imagine life with Ernest now. Their affair has lasted almost a month, and he wants to break it off. He tells her he is 47, and she's only 19. He abandoned his first wife, Violet, a "vaudeville hoofer;" the second, Edith, together they drove a car over a cliff, as Larry tells it. He is currently married to his third wife, Marcelle, who's now a big star. Having engaged in countless affairs, he is burned out. About breaking his engagement, Larry replies, “This is the first decent thing I ever did in my life.” Paula refuses to listen to him, declaring that she will tell her family tonight about their engagement. As Paula leaves Larry's room, Carlotta notices her exit in the hallway.

Larry, a hardened alcoholic, is on the brink of physical and economic collapse. His agent, Max Kane (Lee Tracy), tells him that the stage play he was counting on to play the lead has a new producer, Jo Stengel (Jean Hersholt). Stengel decided to cast another actor in the lead, but was willing to consider Larry in the only other male role, a character part.

The Jordans' physician and friend Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) has been carrying on with Kitty while pretending to tend to her feigned illnesses. On the day of the dinner, his wife, Lucy (Karen Morley), discovers him in a compromising telephone call with Kitty. Lucy still loves him, he wants to change, and they embrace. Suddenly, Oliver is rushed into the office. Amyl nitrite restores him, but Oliver wisely deduces the seriousness of his illness. Talbot tells his nurse the diagnosis: thrombosis of the coronary artery. Oliver has a few years — or even just a few days left to live. At home, Oliver tells Millicent that he feels rotten and needs to rest, but she is too hysterical to hear because, among several domestic disasters, the Ferncliffes have canceled.

Meanwhile, Dan and Kitty have a vicious fight. Threatened with divorce, she tells him to choose between his Cabinet appointment and a career-stopping revelation from her about his crooked dealings. He must save the Jordan line, and treat her with more respect. She wins this round because Dan doesn't know the name of her lover. Her maid, Tina (Hilda Vaughan), who does, proceeds to blackmail her.

Max returns to Larry's, with the producer, Stengel. Larry alienates and insults Stengel, who leaves in haste. Then Max chastises Larry with the truth, tells him he's through in show business and leaves. Next, the hotel manager tells Larry to leave by noon, tomorrow. Larry, in utter despair, turns on his gas fireplace, reclines to show off his famous profile, and waits to die.

The dinner guests arrive at the Jordans. Carlotta informs Paula that Larry has taken his own life, and comforts the weeping girl. Oliver has an attack. Millicent learns about his illness and the business. First, she weeps, then she springs into action, planning their future. Downstairs, Kitty forces Dan to tell Oliver that he has saved the Jordan line.

Going into dinner, Kitty remarks, “I was reading a book the other day,” and Carlotta does a superb double-take. Kitty says in the book that "machinery is going to take the place of every profession." Carlotta scans Kitty from head to toe, takes her arm and replies, "Oh my dear, that's something you never need to worry about."  .[3][4][5]

Cast[edit]

Lobby card
Jean Harlow as Kitty Packard in Dinner at Eight

The cast also includes

Production[edit]

TCM.com says that the character of Carlotta was inspired by the popular stage and silent film actress Maxine Elliott, citing the March 13, 1940 obituary in the New York Times.[6]

Marie Dressler died of cancer in July 1934, less than a year after Dinner at Eight was released. She was recovering from surgery when Dinner at Eight began filming.[7]

Joan Crawford was considered for the part of Paula Jordan. Clark Gable was considered for the part of Dr. Wayne Talbot.[7]

The name of Carlotta Vance's dog, Tarzan, was changed from Mussolini by MGM executives afraid of offending the Italian leader.[7]

According to Director George Cukor, John Barrymore created the character Larry Renault using memories of his father-in-law, Maurice Costello, his brother-in-law, Lowell Sherman, and himself.[7]

Reception[edit]

Dinner at Eight proved to be popular at the box office. According to MGM records the film earned $1,398,000 in the US and Canada and $758,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $998,000.[1][8]

In 1933, Dinner at Eight received very high marks from many leading reviewers. Mordaunt Hall, the widely read critic for The New York Times, admired the screenplay's thoughtful but "fast-moving" blend of drama and "flip dialogue", crediting the skillful adaptation of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's script from the stage production, which had opened on Broadway the previous year. Hall also praised the performances of the film's star-studded cast, drawing special attention to the work of Marie Dressler, Billie Burke, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, and Jean Harlow:

This Dinner at Eight has a cast of twenty-five, and among the players are most of the stellar lights of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, besides a few borrowed from other companies. It is one of those rare pictures which keeps you in your seat until the final fade-out, for nobody wants to miss one of the scintillating lines.

It is a fast-moving narrative with its humor and tragedy, one that offers a greater variety of characterizations than have been witnessed in any other picture...A strong line of drama courses through the story notwithstanding the flip dialogue. The picture runs along with a steady flow of unusually well-knit incidents, which are woven together most expertly toward the end. This is owing to the fine writing of Mr. Kaufman and Miss Ferber...Veteran players of the stage, who have since been won over to talking pictures, are the principal assets in this film. It is a great pleasure to behold Marie Dressler away from her usual roles, dressed in the height of fashion and given lines that aroused gales of mirth from the first-night audience...

Miss Dressler is splendid as the wise Carlotta. Miss Burke's contribution to the story is all one could wish. She is the personification of an anxious hostess at one moment and subsequently a deeply disappointed woman. John Barrymore tackles his role with his usual artistry. His acting during Larry's last moments is most effective. Mr. Beery fits into the role of Dan Packard as though it were written especially for him and Miss Harlow makes the most of the part of Kitty.[9]

In its review, Variety also praised the film's storyline and performances. It highlighted Dressler's role as well, although the influential entertainment trade weekly focused its compliments chiefly on Harlow's portrayal of Kitty:

The story grips from beginning to end with never relaxing tension, its somber moments relieved by lighter touches into a fascinating mosaic for nearly two hours...Acting honors probably will go to Miss Dressler and Miss Harlow, the latter taking hold of her fat role and making it stand out, even in this distinguished company by the astonishingly well-balanced treatment of Kitty, the canny little hussy who hooks a hard-bitten and unscrupulous millionaire and then makes him lay down and roll over. By long odds the best thing Miss Harlow has done to date.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2000, American Film Institute included the film in the list AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs (#85).[11]

Come to Dinner parody[edit]

Come to Dinner, 22 minutes in length, is a 1934 Broadway Brevity parody of Dinner at Eight using look-alike actors.[12][13] It is included in the 2005 Warner Video DVD of Dinner at Eight.

1989 remake[edit]

A television film remake starring Lauren Bacall, Charles Durning, Ellen Greene, Harry Hamlin, John Mahoney and Marsha Mason was broadcast on TNT Channel on December 11, 1989. It was directed by Ron Lagomarsino.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles, California: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Dinner at Eight (1933), retrieved August 1, 2020
  3. ^ Although this memorable statement is often described as the last line  of the film, there is more to come. Carlotta calls to the company gathering around the table, “Say, I want to sit next to Oliver! Oliver, Where are you?” and the doors close on the dining room.
  4. ^ "AFI Catalog - Dinner At Eight". Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  5. ^ Additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart
  6. ^ "Dinner at Eight (1934) - Notes - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d "Dinner at Eight (1934) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  8. ^ David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 160.
  9. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (1933). "Movie Review: DINNER AT EIGHT", The New York Times, August 28, 1933. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  10. ^ "Rush." (1933). "DINNER AT EIGHT", film review, Variety (New York, N.Y.), August 29, 1933, page 14. Internet Archive, San Francisco. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2000. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  12. ^ "Come to Dinner (1934) - IMDb". Retrieved October 13, 2014.
  13. ^ "Come to Dinner (1933) - Overview - TCM.com". Retrieved October 13, 2014.

External links[edit]