1933 - United States - 113 minutes
Writers - George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber
Director - George Cukor
My Rating - 5 of 5 Stars
I was looking for a taste of nostalgia last week, dug into my DVD collection, and pulled out Dinner at Eight to watch again. Those of you younger than I may have no knowledge of this star-studded film from the past, but if you enjoy a good, old juicy melodrama with more than its share of witty dialogue, I assure you that you will enjoy watching Dinner at Eight. For those of you my age or older who are familiar with the film, even though it has become a dull memory, you'll get a kick out of seeing it again.
Millicent Jordan is preparing a dinner party for honored guests, Lord and Lady Ferncliff and has been asked by her husband, Oliver to include Dan Packard and his wife. Packard is a rough, boorish man whose wife is an uncultured low-life, but Millicent complies. Also attending will be the Jordan's daughter and her fiancé who has been away on a long business trip, the Jordan's physician and his wife, and an old friend of Oliver's, Carlotta Vance who is a faded actress. Millicent's first big problem is that she is short a man for her dinner - a major concern in societal circles of 1933. Staying in town is Larry Renault (another faded actor) who is the perfect extra man. Millicent goes about preparations in a delightfully air-headed way dealing with one major "crisis" after another - the aspic lion doesn't set, the butler and the chauffeur had a fight over the maid and now one is in jail and one is in the hospital, etc.
Meanwhile Oliver is facing the collapse of his business and a failing heart, Carlotta is bereft of funds, Renault is desperately trying to revive his career whilst in a constant alcoholic stupor, the Jordan's daughter is having an affair, and the doctor is lusting after Dan Packard's wife - and vice-versa - while Packard himself is working to steal Jordan's business out from under him.
It's all great fun because an unbelievable lineup of great actors play the larger-than-life characters.
Billie Burke plays Millicent. I cannot think of an actress I know who does a better job at playing the ditsy matron than Burke. She was the wife of the famous Florenz Ziegfeld and had a long career on the stage and on screen. She always seemed at the top of her form.
John Barrymore - the Great Profile and grandfather of Drew - plays Renault with a self-depreciating wit in a part that was, unfortunately, not too far from real life.
John's older brother, Lionel Barrymore plays Oliver. Lionel always showed great heart in his parts and this is no exception. Oliver is a man whose life is crashing around him, but he steadfastly is concerned with the problems of others.
Wallace Beery plays Dan Packard in his usual gruff, no nonsense fashion - that is until he butts heads with his hellcat of a wife played to the hilt by Jean Harlow. If you've ever wondered what made Harlow so special, just watch Dinner at Eight.
Without a doubt, my favorite character in the film is that of Carlotta played by Marie Dressler. Sadly, this was her next-to-last film for she would be dead of cancer in less than a year. Dressler is a total delight in this film. Yes, her performance is probably a little over the top, but she does it so well.
If you've ever watched the Academy Awards and wondered who Jean Hersholt was, you even get a chance to see him in this film. He was a great character actor.
Yes, the whole thing is schmaltz from beginning to end but such enjoyable schmaltz. Plus, it's worth watching the whole thing just to hear the final line delivered with considerable tongue-in-cheek by Dressler.
July 15, 2007