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74 out of 86 people found the following review useful:

A starry showcase (and all but grand exit) for consummate scene-stealer Dressler

9/10
Author: bmacv from Western New York
17 August 2004

Among the great actresses who have helped to illuminate the silver screen, Marie Dressler may be Chateau d'Yquem – a grand premier cru, in a class all her own. As aging star of the theatuh Carlotta Vance, a living relic of the 'Delmonico' era in New York, she walks away with an immortal movie, as entertaining a contraption as the studio system ever confected. And she does it effortlessly, despite some very tough competition – the most lustrous talent MGM could summon in the worst year of the Depression, and maybe the best it was ever able to gather together in the many constellations it assembled.

Dressler heads a large ensemble cast, with several distinct but interlocking stories, all leading up to (but never quite making) a posh dinner party at the mansion of Billie Burke, wife of shipping magnate Lionel Barrymore. Desperately trying to snag (the unseen) Lord and Lady Ferncliffe – moldering aristocrats she once met at Cap d'Antibes – Burke bullies and badgers everybody she can think of to seat a swank table. Worrying about nothing so much as how 'dressy' the aspic will be – it's the British Lion molded out of a quivering gelatin – she's oblivious to the human dramas whirling around the people on her guest list.

For starters, her husband is not only seriously ill but close to bankruptcy, to boot. Down in his nautical offices on The Battery, he's paid a visit by an old (and older than he) flame, Dressler; a bit down on her luck herself ('I'm flatter than a pancake – I haven't a sou'), she wants to sell her stock in his company. Another visitor, one of the sharks circling around to feast on his bleeding empire. is Wallace Beery, a loud-mouthed boor whom Barrymore nonetheless cajoles Burke into inviting, against her snobbish sensibilities. Beery, a politically connected wheeler-dealer, has problems of his own, namely his wife Jean Harlow. She lounges luxuriously in bed most of the day, changing in and out of fur-trimmed bed jackets and sampling chocolates while waiting for her doctor-lover (Edmund Lowe) to pay another house call under the pretext of tending to her imaginary ailments.

Burke's and Barrymore's young daughter, meanwhile, conceals a clandestine affair with 'free, white and 45" marquee idol John Barrymore, a washed-up drunk whose grandiose airs can't even fool the bellboys he sends out for bottles of hooch (a storyline in the screenplay, co-written by the also alcoholic Herman J. Mankiewicz – from the George S. Kaufmann/Edna Ferber stage hit – that can't have been comfortable for the similarly afflicted Barrymore, who's even referred to in the movie by his emblematic sobriquet 'The Great Profile').

Those are the major strands of the story, but there's even more talent on board: Louise Closser Hale as Burke's pithy cousin; May Robson as the cook in charge of the ill-starred aspic; Lee Tracy, as John Barrymore's exasperated agent; and, deliciously, Hilda Vaughn as Harlow's mercenary maid.

The goings-on range from the farcical to the tragic, and for the most part, the cast does proud in coping with the often drastic shifts of tone (true, some episodes carry more weight than others, some players less inspired than their colleagues; it's an episodic movie, at times dated, from the infancy of talkies when scenes were not a snappily edited few seconds but prolonged and often stagy).

Still, in this starry cast, Dressler shines brightest. A Canadian gal who started in the circus, she worked in vaudeville, theater, and, in the last few decades of her life, in Hollywood. Despite her girth and the delapidations gravity had worked on her face, she's never less than transfixing. She tosses off the requisite comedy as effortlessly as that oldest of pros that she had become, yet can draw the camera to her deeply kohled eyes when she imparts some very bad news and turn it into a few seconds of threnody. (Only Barbara Stanwyck commands so boundless a range, which we have the luxury of observing over several decades of her career; what survives of Dressler dates only from her few last years.) Dressler would make but one more movie before her death, but it's chivalrous to think of Dinner At Eight as her grand exit.

As Dinner At Eight winds down, the aspic never makes it to table, nor do some of the expected guests. But life plods on, if capriciously and unfairly. Burke, at the end of her tether, utters a plangent cry that sums up man's impotence against the cruelty of fate: 'Crabmeat...CRABMEAT!'

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59 out of 65 people found the following review useful:

Deeeeelicious!

Author: Bucs1960 from West Virginia
30 March 2004

When you gather together the great stars of the early 30's, give them a great script, a great director and let them have their head, you get "Dinner at Eight". This is a delightful film which bridges the gap between comedy and drama. Granted, it is a little dated but that it only a minor inconvenience to those of us who love this movie.

You would be hard pressed to find another actress who could play the part of Carlotta Vance with such panache as Marie Dressler.......she is magnificent. She may give the best performance in the film but she has stiff competition from the rest of this star-studded cast.

I find John Barrymore's performance particularly good as it seems to mirror his own career and problems with alcohol. Arranging himself in the right light to capture the great profile one last time is poignant. I am not a Wallace Beery fan but he is spot on as the vulgar, grasping business man with wonderful Jean Harlow as his slutty wife. She is a treat and of course, no one can forget her exchange with Dressler at the end of the film when she announces that she was reading a book! The lovely Billie Burke, who made a film career out of dithering society women (although she was a former Follies beauty and wife of Flo Ziegfeld)is a delight. Lionel Barrymore plays it pretty straight as her long suffering, tragically ill husband. Edmund Lowe passes muster as the philandering doctor and the rest of the supporting cast is as good as it gets.

They don't make 'em like this anymore. It's a movie lovers paradise!

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49 out of 55 people found the following review useful:

An All-Star Classic

10/10
Author: Ron Oliver (revilorest@juno.com) from Forest Ranch, CA
12 February 2000

A flamboyant old actress with memories of lovers long dead. An alcoholic actor desperate for one more chance on the stage. An Oklahoma tycoon and his below-the-tracks, tough as nails wife. A philandering doctor and his faithful wife. They're all invited to meet tonight at the mansion home of a dying industrialist and his flighty, society-obsessed wife for DINNER AT EIGHT.

Following the great success of GRAND HOTEL in 1932, MGM & producer David O. Selznick embarked on producing an even greater all-star triumph. They succeeded. DINNER AT EIGHT takes a first class list of performers at the top of their form (Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Billie Burke) and seamlessly, if a bit implausibly, weaves a plot full of comedy & tragedy which allows each star to strut their stuff.

Dressler was Hollywood's top star at this time and she is wonderful, fingering her jewelry - each piece a remembrance of an ancient romance. She has only one scene with gorgeous Harlow and that comes at the very end of the film, but it's a classic.

The rest of the cast is a wonderful grab bag of talent: peppery Lee Tracy, elderly Louise Closser Hale, gentle Jean Hersholt, as well as Phillips Holmes, Edmund Lowe, Karen Morley, Madge Evans, Grant Mitchell, Elizabeth Patterson, May Robson, Herman Bing.

Take a moment to consider Edward Woods, playing Eddie the bell boy. The year before at Warner Brothers he had traded roles with James Cagney in a little picture called PUBLIC ENEMY. Cagney became an instant, huge celebrity. Woods continued to play bell boy roles...

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35 out of 40 people found the following review useful:

VIPs, past and future.

9/10
Author: FilmSnobby from San Diego
14 March 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Talk about an all-star lineup. I'm referring to the WRITERS of *Dinner at Eight*. Get a load of this list: George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, who wrote the original stage play; Francis Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay; and Donald Ogden Stewart applying garnish (and varnish). These names are even more impressive than the cast-list: Brothers Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Billie Burke, Wallace Beery, et al. All under the direction of George Cukor in a film produced by David O. Selznick for MGM, which at the time (1933), was run by Irving G. Thalberg. "Old Hollywood" enough for you?

Of course, you'll have to make allowances for the primitive mise-en-scene -- after all, talkies had been around for only a few years when this movie was made. The new innovation of sound was considered a more than fair compensation for the loss of the visual pyrotechnics introduced by the great silent directors like Griffith. Therefore, movies from this particular era look boxed in, stuffed with talk, talk, and more talk. Luckily in this instance, the talk is generally interesting, almost always witty, and attuned to the idiosyncrasies of the various characters. Finally, the whole piece is shot through with that certain world-weariness that comes from creative artists attempting to assess, and say goodbye to, the end of an epoch. Let me expand a bit on that. Consider three of the characters: first, there's Marie Dressler's former stage actress, a sort of grande dame Sarah Bernhardt type, now old and corpulent, keeping a merciless eye on her finances, wistfully recounting the glories of the long-past era of Delmonico's and horse-drawn carriages on The Broad Way. There's her long-time friend (and former beau), Lionel Barrymore, a sclerotic magnate of a shipping empire. His heart and his business have both seen better days. And finally there's John Barrymore (the Barrymores don't play brothers in the movie; in fact, they never share a moment of screen time), a washed-up, has-been, 47-year-old movie star of the silent era, living in a posh hotel room he can't afford, haunted by the memory of fame and three ex-wives, pestered by a 19-year-old girlfriend who won't allow him to drink himself to death. These characters are the most obvious symbols of an era that has passed . . . but even Billie Burke's nervous socialite, with her humorously single-minded pursuit of the perfect dinner party, represents a melancholy reflection of What Used to Be. When her husband Lionel confesses to her that his shipping business is going broke in the new age of airplanes, we know that dinner parties will be the least of her worries in the near future. There's a Depression on, you know. And modernity -- the current, heartless variety -- is hot on everyone's heels.

The movie sets these relics against the crass New Breed, typified by the most unlikely husband-and-wife team in the history of movies: Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. While Beery goes about the business of destroying Lionel's business, Harlow lolls around in bed wearing fur-trimmed gowns, noshing chocolates. Even their maid is a disrespectful blackmailer, demanding from Harlow "hush-jewelry" to keep from mentioning Harlow's adulteries to her husband. But somewhere between having an affair with her doctor and clawing her way into "respectable" society, Harlow manages to find her own core of decency: she keeps that pig of a husband on the (relatively) up-and-up. The movie's writers don't ENTIRELY give up on the new generation. Harlow is even reading a book -- a NUTTY kind of a book, but it's a positive sign nevertheless.

Dressler's double-take after hearing Harlow confess to reading a book is, of course, world-famous. Everyone remembers Dressler's punch-line, too. But too few pause to think of what Harlow describes her book to be about: a society in which machines do all of the work for us, a society in which machines will virtually replace us. And thus this brings us back to theme of the passing genteel age and the coming new age, with its attendant ugliness parading under the banner of "progress". Yes, Harlow will never be replaced, as Dressler points out. But who among us is Jean Harlow?

*Dinner at Eight* is probably the snappiest dirge, the wittiest elegy, ever produced by Hollywood. It was made in an era when actual artists worked in that L.A. suburb -- unlike the automatons running the show today. As such, it's prophetic about the art-form to which it belongs, as well. 9 stars out 10.

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33 out of 41 people found the following review useful:

An all star cast in an all star movie

10/10
Author: Doug Phillips (janabro@aol.com) from Seattle, Washington
13 January 1999

Dinner at Eight is one of the consummate movie buff's movies...

It has romance, glamour, wit, charm, intrigue, interesting characters and a great story.

The agonies that Mrs. Oliver Jordan (the incomparable Billie Burke [Are you a good witch or a bad witch?]) must go through to stage what is supposed to be a simple dinner party will leave you laughing, sympathizing and grateful you are not her.

Jean Harlow is at her most beautiful. She radiates an overt yet somehow innocent sexuality that shows why she became a major star so quickly.

Marie Dressler proves why she was so heralded. Her acting cannot be called subtle -- but it is always effective.

After watching this film you will wonder if people ever really did live this way. Strangely enough, I believe they probably did.

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27 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

Five course dinner

10/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
3 December 2005

This film followed MGM's great success of the previous year, "Grand Hotel", as it afforded the studio a showcase for some of its talented stars. "Dinner at Eight" is one of the classic plays of that era, having been written for the stage by George Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The screen adaptation of the play is by Herman Mankiewicz, Frances Marion and Donald Ogden Stewart, some of the best writers the movies ever had. The film, under the impeccable direction of George Cukor makes "Dinner at Eight" one of the classics of the American cinema.

"Dinner at Eight" is a comedy, at heart, but there are elements of drama in it, as well. On the one hand, it offers easy laughter for the viewer, but it also has a dark aspect in its dealing with alcoholism and adultery. The film, like its predecessor, offers several story lines that keeps us interested in the different relationships the film presents for us.

"Dinner at Eight" boasts one of the best casts ever assembled for a movie. Marie Dressler, who is seen as Carlota Vance, was one of the best actresses working in the movies at the time. Lionel and John Barrymore had been seen together in "Grand Hotel" and both play pivotal parts in this film as well. The effervescent Billie Burke is one of the best things in the movie. Ms. Burke was one bright star whose contribution to the success of the films she appeared in was a guarantee for the people behind any project.

Wallace Beery plays the boorish and influential industrialist Dan Packard, a man to be reckoned with. Jean Harlow portrays his wife, the low life Kitty, who was two-timing Dan. In a way, Dan and Kitty seem to have been the prototypes for Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday" because both characters bear a certain similarity in both films.

The supporting members of the cast are impressive. Edmund Lowe, Lee Tracy, Madge Evans, Louise Closser Hale, May Robson, Jean Hersholt, Karen Morley, and the rest, aside from giving good performances, leave their own mark in the film.

A great cinematographer was behind the camera for this movie: William Daniels. His amazing work is one of the best in any of the pictures he photographed. Mr. Daniels knew how to direct his camera to get the most out of these talented actors one sees in "Dinner at Eight" Of course, this is a film that bears the David O. Selznick signature, for it was he who decided to transform the play into a motion picture and he succeeded in doing it. Most of the creditor must go to director George Cukor, who was truly inspired in making "Dinner at Eight" a movie that has endured the passage of time.

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25 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Highly enjoyable

9/10
Author: Camera Obscura from The Dutch Mountains
28 June 2006

"Darling, I've got Lord and Lady Ferncliffe [...] You remember the Ferncliffes from London, do you darling?"

"Yes, yes.. and how dull they were, eating mutton."

I just love it! This lavish all-star MGM-production still is great entertainment. Some of it's notions are somewhat dated perhaps, but with this team behind - and in the film - nothing can go wrong.

A portrait of various strata of New York society, the clash between the newly riches and the old elite, the Old and New World, the battle of the sexes (between Wallace Beery and Harlow), Gotham in a nutshell. Nothing is "really" happening, the same as its "twin brother" GRAND HOTEL and essentially it's a filmed play (based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber), but with this cast there are no complaints. You don't hear anyone complaining about David Mamet's GLENGARY GLENN ROSS's filmed play, do you? Jean Harlow, "the Blonde Bombshell", as the deliciously vulgar wife of Wallace Beery, the new man in town, trying to connect with the New York elite and Washington politicians. John Barrymore is fantastic as a once famous actor from the silent era, who cannot accept the fact that his career is over.

To me the film is just a perfect time capsule of so many typical topics of the era: the depression, the transition from silents to talkies, the continuous transformation of the upper crust of New York society, the traveling by ocean steamer to Europe... It's actually a very rich film, no matter how fluffy it might look (in the case of Jean Harlow's wardrobe quite literally). And when given a treatment like this, the top-notch cast, good writing, gorgeous sets under the supervision of David O. Selznick and George Cukor, it's a feast for the eye.

Camera Obscura --- 9/10

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24 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Millicent Jordan's Dinner Party

Author: lugonian from Kissimmee, Florida
22 April 2005

DINNER AT EIGHT (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1933), directed by George Cukor, MGM's second attempt with an all-star production following the success to GRAND HOTEL (1932), is a remarkable as well as memorable movie that has benefited from repeated viewings over the past years. As with GRAND HOTEL, DINNER AT EIGHT was adapted from a stage play (by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber), and reunites some of its GRAND HOTEL performers, including John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery and Jean Hersholt. Unlike GRAND HOTEL, DINNER AT EIGHT is one of the best movies ever assembled to not receive a single Academy Award nomination. Even though it would be difficult to pinpoint which of the major stars might have been worthy of that honor, a Best Picture nominee would have spoken for the entire cast. In the usual manner of all star productions, of the major leads, all introduced with each face framed in a dinner plate, the one whose name comes first is the one with either the least amount of screen time or the one whose character enters late into the story. The star in question is Marie Dressler, a top-name at the time, leaving a big impression with her limited performance, and yet, it is Billie Burke as Millicent Jordan whose presence is felt throughout mainly because it's her dinner party.

The story begins with Millicent Jordan (Burke) a New York social wife, announcing her upcoming dinner party she's arranging for Lord and Lady Ferncliffe, and the people she intends to invite. As with the stage production, the movie plays out in numerous acts: (a) "The Jordan Home": Introductory scenes focusing on Millicent (Burke), her husband Oliver (Lionel Barrymore), head of a declining shipping company, and their troubled daughter, Paula (Madge Evans); (b) "At the Office": Oliver is visited by once acclaimed stage actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), with whom he had loved in his youth, as well as one of the invited guests; and Dan Packard (Wallace Beery), a middle-aged promoter whom Oliver hopes could save him from his financial difficulties; (c) "The Battling Packards": As a favor to Oliver, Millicent reluctantly telephones Kitty (Jean Harlow) and invites the low-life couple to her dinner. Kitty, spoiled and lazy, wants nothing more than to break into society and meet the right kind of people. Being home all day doing nothing, Kitty secretly carries on a love affair with her family doctor, Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe), while her husband goes away on business, a secret known only by Kitty's maid (Hilda Vaughn); (d) "The Matinée Idol": In need of an extra dinner guest, Millicent invites matinée idol Larry Renault (John Barrymore), a friend of the family in town staying at the Versailles Hotel. Unknown to Millicent, her engaged daughter Paula is secretly Renault's mistress; (e) "Dr. Talbot's Domestic Problems": Scene involves Kitty's doctor and his illicit affairs with his patients, as discussed between him and his understanding wife (Karen Morley). which concludes with a visit from gravely ill Oliver who is diagnosed with heart disease; (f) "Back to the Jordan Home": While Millicent is interacted between scenes involving the dinner guests, this segment involves Millicent's own domestic problems with her hired help as well as the news about her guests of honor departing for Florida, leaving Millicent to locate substitutes as the guests of honor; (g) "Final Showdown for the Packards": In their home getting ready for the function, Dan and Kitty come to a showdown revealing how they actually feel about one other, with all their secrets coming out; (h) "Renault's Tragic Performance": Renault turns down the one act part as a beachcomber in a forthcoming play offered to him by an important producer (Jean Hersholt). Believing he is still important to the theater, Renault's trying and upset agent (Lee Tracy) brings the drunken actor to reality by telling him his career has ended long ago. Later, after the management asks him to leave the hotel, Renault agrees, thus, giving his one last "performance" to take place in the room; (i) "Dinner at Eight" The gathering of all the party guests at the Jordan home, with some resolutions resolved, concluding with the most celebrated exchange between Carlotta and Kitty.

Categorized as a comedy, with the exception of some cleverly written dialog, DINNER AT EIGHT is anything but a comedy. In truth, it's actually a stylish dramatic story centering upon the troublesome lives of Millicent Jordan and chapters involving her invited guests. The most interesting, as well as tragic, is John Barrymore's as Larry Renault, and how his character closely foreshadows his own life, as a habitual drinker, a fading actor with ex-wives, now in financial ruin. He is even addressed to as "The Great Profile" by his agent (Tracy). What's even more ironic is that Marie Dressler and Jean Harlow, who closing scene is classic, each would be dead not long after the release DINNER AT EIGHT, leaving their legacies behind them. Besides the leading players, others in support include Phillips Holmes, Louise Closser Hale, May Robson, Grant Mitchell and Elizabeth Patterson, all giving capable performances under Cukor's excellent direction. No underscoring whatsoever, with the exception of "I Kiss Your Hand, Madame," which is themed during the opening credits, and orchestra playing at the final minutes of the function, DINNER AT EIGHT appears to be a motion picture that has surpassed the 1932 Broadway play.

Distributed on video cassette as far back at the 1980s, and later on DVD, DINNER AT EIGHT, which makes a good double bill along with GRAND HOTEL, frequently plays on Turner Classic Movies. While there has been a 1989 made-for-television remake which premiered on Turner Network Television, with everything brought up to date, the main course on the menu today continues to be the unsurpassed 1933 appetizer. (****)

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24 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

One of the Best Comedies M-G-M made During the 1930s

10/10
Author: EightyProof45 from New Jersey
11 November 2003

The movie Dinner at Eight is one of the best comedies ever made in Hollywood. Any reviewer who has claimed that it isn't a comedy needs to re-examine the picture. Although undeniably dark in its tone, the film is undeniably hilarious, especially when certain actors are on-screen. It could be called a dark comedy, even a black comedy, but a comedy it is nonetheless. There are eight `above-the-title' stars in this picture.

Billie Burke, except for the scene in which she discovers her husband is ill, is a parody of the society woman. Every line of hers, emphasizing her scatterbrain-ness and her lack of priorities, reeks of hilarity. Her role is pure comedy.

Lionel Barrymore, playing a sickly business tycoon, has a less comedic role. His opening lines about `Australian mutton' are hilarious. The way he watches his wife planning the party is also quite comedic. His dramatic moments juxtapose alongside his wife's to create some of her funniest moments. His part is almost split down the middle between comedy and drama.

Wallace Beery, portraying a ruthless, uncouth business man, is hilarious. His vulgarity contradict everything Mrs. Jordan views as ideal. He screams, yells, and has a violent temper. And, boy, is he funny to watch. Anyone who tries to label his performance as anywhere near dramatic should have his or her head examined. He gives the funnies male performance in the film. The role is almost all comedy.

Jean Harlow, as his slutty, common, vixen-of-a-wife gives the finest comedic performance of her entire career. She snarls, changes her voice in different conversations, manipulates, and lies, all to comedic perfection. Just the sound of her voice, saying the most outrageous dialogue to boot, triggers the laughs. This is the most comedic role in the picture.

John Barrymore, as an aging silent matinee idol, is the film's most dramatic performance. Although he has some comic moments (very few), and some ironic and satirical actions (when he kills himself, for example, he positions the light perfectly to capture his profile), for the most part, his scenes give the film their most dramatic moments. The performance is about 90% drama.

Edmund Lowe, playing a doctor-cum-playboy having a tryst with Harlow, has his part split down the middle. He is often funny, never reaching the sheer hilarity of some of the others, but, also, never quite elevating to the heights of histrionics either. His views on extramarital affairs are pretty funny, but when he has to tell a patient of impending illness, its drama. The fact that he specializes in `bedside manner' is just funny, and his first embrace with his `patient' is a scathing critique of corrupt society. Just as Lionel Barrymore's role, Lowe's is split fifty-fifty, right down the middle.

Lee Tracy, as John Barrymore's agent, is simply hilarious. His vocal fluctuations were his trademark, and the part seems tailor-made for him. Although he has many dramatic moments, he is very funny most of the time. His reactions and gestures are wonderful. In all, this part is about 60% comedy, 40% drama.

Marie Dressler, as a grand dame of the 1890s, is priceless. She all-but steals the picture from her co-stars. Sprinkled among her part are dozens of comic innuendos and perfect double takes. She is perfect and absolutely hilarious at all time, with the exception of the one scene in which she must explain to a young woman that her lover has committed suicide. The rest of the time she goes traipsing about making a perfect spectacle of herself, and she is the greatest asset to the film, acting-wise. Her part is 99% comic, except for that one scene.

The supporting actors, particularly Louise Closser Hale and Grant Withers, are comedic perfection. With the exception of the scenes in John Barryore's room at the Hotel Versailles, almost every supporting role is meant to be funny. The sets and costumes poke fun at the times too, and in the last analysis, the picture is a dramatic comedy, but a comedy bien sûr!

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15 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

a golden oldie

Author: didi-5 from United Kingdom
26 June 2000

What a cast - MGM's finest in a series of vignettes leading up to Mrs Jordan's dinner party (which we never actually see). Jean Harlow is at her wisecracking best and her most stunning; Marie Dressler and John Barrymore are terrific as washed-up actors; everyone is just excellent. Everything that can possibly go wrong does - you can't help but sympathise as Billie Burke's Mrs Jordan gradually gets more and more ruffled by the day's events. Some great one liners and yet another excellent entry on Cukor's CV.

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