Dinner at Eight (1933 film)
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 play of the same name, 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|
|Directed by||George Cukor|
|Produced by||David O. Selznick|
|Screenplay by||Frances Marion|
Herman J. Mankiewicz
Additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart
|Based on||Dinner at Eight|
by George S. Kaufman
|Music by||William Axt|
|Cinematography||William H. Daniels|
|Edited by||Ben Lewis|
|August 29, 1933|
111 min (Turner library print)
Dinner at Eight continues to be acclaimed by critics; review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 100% approval among 17 critics, with an average rating of 8.6/10.
One week before her next society dinner, Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) receives word that Lord and Lady Ferncliffe, whom she and her husband Oliver (Lionel Barrymore), a New York shipping magnate, had met in England the previous year, have accepted her invitation. Overjoyed by this social coup, Millicent is oblivious to Oliver's lack of enthusiasm about the dinner and her daughter Paula's (Madge Evans) preoccupation about the impending return of her fiancé, Ernest DeGraff (Phillips Holmes), from Europe. Millicent fusses about finding an "extra man" for her single female guest, former stage star Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), who resides in Europe.
Meanwhile, Oliver faces distressing news about his shipping business, which has been struck hard by the Depression. Carlotta, an aging retired actress and former lover of Oliver, visits Oliver at his office and asks him to buy her stock in the company, but he does not have the money. Dan Packard (Wallace Beery), a mining magnate, stops by long enough for Oliver to ask him to buy some company stock. Dan agrees only to consider the proposition. He then brags to his wife Kitty (Jean Harlow) that he will take the shipping business through deceit.
Unknown to Dan, Oliver has convinced Millicent to invite the Packards to her dinner with the hopes that it will increase Dan's wish to buy the stock. Dan's young trophy-wife, the ill-mannered but socially ambitious Kitty, eagerly has accepted. Although he at first refuses to go, Dan, who believes that he will soon be appointed to a Cabinet post, changes his mind about the dinner when he finds out that the Ferncliffes, the richest couple in England, are also invited. Also unknown to Dan, one of Millicent's other guests, Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe), has been having an affair with Kitty while pretending to be tending to her feigned illnesses.
On the morning of her dinner, Millicent, still short an extra man, telephones Larry Renault (John Barrymore), a washed-up silent movie star, and extends him a last-minute invitation, completely unaware that Paula is having a clandestine love affair with him. At Paula's urging, Larry, a two-time divorcé (who is still married to his third wife), and hardened alcoholic, accepts the invitation, but advises the much younger Paula to forget about him and return to Ernest. After Paula stubbornly refuses to take Larry's admonitions seriously, she is seen leaving his room by Carlotta, who is residing at the same hotel.
Larry is visited by his agent, Max Kane (Lee Tracy), who tells him that the stage play he was planning to star in has lost its original producer. Max breaks the news to Larry that the play's new producer, Jo Stengel (Jean Hersholt), wants another actor in the lead but is willing to consider him in a bit part. Crushed, Larry takes to drink.
Later that day, Talbot is discovered by his wife Lucy (Karen Morley) in a compromising telephone call with Kitty and confesses that, in spite of his love for her, he is addicted to women and needs help to overcome his weakness. Oliver is rushed in to see Talbot, who has come to the doctor's office with severe chest pains.
Although Talbot tries to hide his prognosis of terminal thrombosis of the heart, Oliver wisely deduces the seriousness of his illness. When he returns home, the weakened Oliver tries to explain to Millicent his need for rest, but she is too hysterical to hear because, among other minor disasters, the Ferncliffes have cancelled and are on their way to Florida. Although anxious to tell Millicent about Larry, Paula, too, is turned away by her upset mother and faces the prospect of facing Ernest alone.
At the Packards', meanwhile, Kitty reveals to Dan in a fit of anger that she is having an affair. When threatened with divorce, however, Kitty tells her husband that, if he wants his Cabinet appointment instead of a career-stopping revelation from her about his crooked dealings, he must back down from his takeover of Oliver's line and treat her with more respect. She wins this round because Dan doesn't know the name of her lover, but her maid Tina, who does, proceeds to blackmail her.
Just before he is to leave for the dinner, Larry is visited by Max and Jo Stengel and drunkenly berates Stengel for insulting him with his paltry offer. After a frustrated Max denounces him for ruining his last career chance and the hotel management asks him to leave, Larry quietly turns on his gas fireplace and commits suicide.
At the ill-fated dinner, Carlotta confides in private with Paula, who is just about to break her engagement with Ernest, about Larry's demise and counsels the young woman to stay with her fiancé. At the same time, Millicent learns from Talbot about Oliver's illness. Finally awakened to her selfishness, Millicent announces to Oliver that she is ready to make sacrifices for the family and be a more attentive wife. Then, as the beleaguered guests are about to go in to dinner, Dan, with prodding from Kitty, tells Oliver that he has put a stop to the takeover of the Jordan shipping line.
- Marie Dressler as Carlotta Vance, an aging actress, destitute, dealing with the loss of prestige
- John Barrymore as Larry Renault, a washed-up, drunken actor
- Wallace Beery as Dan Packard, a successful, crooked bully of a businessman
- Jean Harlow as Kitty Packard, a lonely, conceited woman and wife of Dan Packard
- Lionel Barrymore as Oliver Jordan, a kind businessman whose business is failing
- Lee Tracy as Max Kane, Larry Renault's desperate agent
- Edmund Lowe as Dr. Wayne Talbot, an unfaithful husband, doctor to the rich, especially Kitty Packard
- Billie Burke as Millicent Jordan, his wife, a shallow, wealthy socialite
- Madge Evans as Paula Jordan, the Jordans' slightly rebellious daughter
- Jean Hersholt as Jo Stengel, a theatrical agent and producer
- Karen Morley as Lucy Talbot, Wayne Talbot's long-suffering wife
- Louise Closser Hale, as Hattie Loomis, Millie's cousin, last-minute dinner guest
- Phillips Holmes as Ernest DeGraff, fiancé of Paula Jordan
- May Robson as Mrs. Wendel, the cook
The cast also includes
- Grant Mitchell, as Ed Loomis, Hattie's husband, reluctant dinner guest
- Phoebe Foster as Miss Alden
- Elizabeth Patterson as Miss Copeland
- Hilda Vaughn as Tina
- Harry Beresford as Fosdick
- Edwin Maxwell as Mr. Fitch, hotel manager
- John Davidson as Mr. Hatfield
- Edward Woods as Eddie
- Anna Duncan as Dora
- Herman Bing as the Waiter
With regard to its reception by critics in 1933, Dinner at Eight received very high marks from many of the film industry's 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 it as a skillful adaptation of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's script for the stage production, which had opened on Broadway the previous year. Hall also generally praised the performances of the film's star-studded cast, drawing special attention to the work of Marie Dressler, Billie Burke, John Barrymore, Wallace Berry, 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.
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 sombre 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.
Awards and honors
Come to Dinner parody
Come to Dinner, 22 minutes in length, is a 1934 Broadway Brevity parody of Dinner at Eight using look-alike actors. It is included in the 2005 Warner Video DVD of Dinner at Eight.
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.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles, California: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- "Dinner at Eight (1933) on RT". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
- David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 160.
- Hall, Mordaunt (1933). "Movie Review: DINNER AT EIGHT", The New York Times, August 28, 1933. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
- "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.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2000. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
- "Come to Dinner (1934) - IMDb". Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- "Come to Dinner (1933) - Overview - TCM.com". Retrieved 13 October 2014.
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