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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How can you praise a movie so much and not find anything wrong with it?
That is the situation for "Dinner at Eight", the film version of the
George S. Kaufman comedy/drama that covers the lives of people involved
in a high society dinner party in Manhattan in the early 1930's. Billie
Burke's Millicent Jordan is so excited that she has gotten the wealthy
British Ferncliffs to come to dinner. But as soon as she gets the good
news, everything else seems to go wrong. The kitchen staff is fighting,
her daughter has romantic problems, and the guests she wants can't
come, so she has to invite the guests she doesn't really want only
because they are business associates of her husband's.
Burke is married to wealthy businessman Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore) who is having health issues. When his old flame Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler) shows up for a visit, she too is invited, although she's a bit insulted when Oliver's secretary (Elizabeth Patterson) recalls seeing her on stage when she was just a little girl. "We must have a talk about the civil war some time", Dressler snaps, eyeing the obviously middle aged woman up and down in aghast fury. "Just you and I". With those huge sad eyes and that imperious presence, Dressler looks as if she ended up being re-incarnated as the St. Bernard in the T.V. series version of "Topper", and here, she steals every moment she's on, whether offering advice to Burke and Barrymore's daughter (Madge Evans) or taking her own pooch to task for being naughty on a hotel carpet.
Then, there's the Packards, Dan and Kitty (Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow), "new money" as Burke would refer to them as, and just as tacky as they appear to be. Kitty is obviously a philanderer, and Dan is too busy to even seem to care. He's working on a take-over of Jordan stock and when this is revealed to Oliver, his health begins to decline even more. Drunken actor Larry Renault (John Barrymore), in an ironic choice of casting, is desperate for work, but turns down a small supporting part in a play presented to him by his frustrated agent (Lee Tracy). In love with Evans but not wanting to saddle her with being down on his luck, Barrymore makes a drastic decision that will certainly have a massive effect on Burkes' plans.
If there had been Oscars for supporting performances in 1933, Billie Burke would have won for her role of the selfish, demanding Mrs. Jordan who goes haywire and finally has a breakdown as her plans all fall apart. She goes off on a tirade so delicious that you can't believe that this is Glinda the Good Witch and all of those dizzy socialites she later played spouting. In smaller performances, May Robson, Louise Closser Hale and Grant Mitchell shine. The direction by George Cukor is superb. In the just over two hour running time, everybody has something delicious to do, and in that time, you will find so many thrills, you will want to return to dinner again and again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Grand Hotel" took the fifth-ever Best Picture Oscar in 1932, and the next year MGM figured there were worse things to do than to make a copy. The studio cast a lot of the same actorsburly Wallace Beery and both John and Lionel Barrymoreand picked a similarly dark, comedic play to serve as the basis of the script. Yet whereas "Grand Hotel" follows the intertwining lives of ostensibly-everyday people such as workers and businessmen and secretaries, "Dinner at Eight" belongs more to the tradition of mannered, parlor-room plays. Its humor and pathos are less broad, and indeed are so narrow that it feels almost as if 1930s Hollywood is gazing at its own naval. Characters talk about wanting to see the new Garbo picture (at least Garbo is not in this film; she had been in "Grand Hotel") and two of the chief protagonists are washed-up stars who hadn't made the transition to talkies (a topic Hollywood would revisit again and again over the decades, to great effect almost every time). The Academy wasn't interested this time, though, and issued not a single nomination to "Dinner at Eight." It took in less than half of "Grand Hotel"'s revenue at the box office. Yet "Dinner at Eight" is a fun movie for classic film fans all the same, not only because we now recognize it is a last gasp of the pre-Code era, with innuendo and heated bedroom exchanges galore, but because of remarkable performances from Marie Dressler, Billie Burke, and Jean Harlow. There are also a number of references to "this depression," and nearly every character struggles with financial insecurity, so viewers interested in Hollywood's depictions of the Great Depression should not overlook it.
David O. Selznick and MGM's "Dinner at Eight" is a great comedy-drama
follow-up to "Grand Hotel". Although it seems to have been less
critically acclaimed (back then, at least), it's actually a little
better. The story, characters, and setting are more related; they are
all affected by the "Great Depression", and involved, directly or
indirectly, with Lionel Barrymore (as Oliver Jordan) and Billie Burke
(as Millicent Jordan)'s planned dinner party.
One story, or subplot, in "Dinner at Eight" is much superior to the rest of the dramatic elements; it is the story of washed-up alcoholic actor John Barrymore (as Larry Renault). While never less than good, no other story strand approaches Mr. Barrymore's riveting mini-drama. Barrymore and Lee Tracy (as Max Kane) perform especially well together. The other truly exceptional performance honor goes to Marie Dressler (as Carlotta Vance). Ms. Dressler doesn't have her own "play"; instead, her character serves an interlocking purpose. And, she carries the rest of the movie.
Director George Cukor, photographer William Daniels, and the several credited writers are noteworthy, particularly for the Barrymore/Tracy scenes. Ms. Burke, Jean Harlow (as Kitty Packard), and Louise Closser Hale (as Hattie Loomis) are among the others in top form. Watch Barrymore's increasingly desperate "Larry Renault" and Dressler's wise overseeing "Carlotta Vance", for iconic performances from stars at their peak; in, at least, the best supporting characterizations of the year.
********* Dinner at Eight (1933) George Cukor ~ Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Min and Bill: Marie done up so ugly, but with a heart of gold. Dinner
at Eight: I am shocked, but delighted, to see Marie done up so
beautifully. It made me very happy to see her that way, glammed-up if
you will. I read about Marie's early life, and have seen photographs of
her in her stage-star days early in the 20th Century. She was a tough
personality, forceful and not really ugly. Later on, she was a major
force during the Actors' Strike of 1919 -- on the side of the actors, I
think. She was true to her ideals.
Lionel and John Barrymore: I have studied many times the genealogy of their famous ancestors and progeny. Ethel Barrymore was a beautiful Broadway star during the early 20th Century. I feel that all three of them turned to films for money reasons: after the utter tragedy of World War I, the theatre business died -- a lot of the old stories were now severely outdated. We come down the generations to today's Drew Barrymore. Her ancestors were John Drew and Louisa Lane Drew, as well as Georgiana Drew and Maurice Barrymore. Love that famous drunk, John Barrymore.
Jean Harlow -- played the slut who had the unmitigated nerve to stand up to seamy Wallace Beery, LOL. He threatened to throw her out -- to kick her to the curb, but yet she kept on mouthing off at him as if he were old newspapers to be taken to the garbage can. You go, girl! Too bad her career was cut short by early death.
The maid was cool. I loved the part about the bracelet Harlow threw on the floor, and that the maid really knew all about the doctor Harlow was messing around with LOL. Harlow called the maid "Stupid", and verbally abused her. Beery called Harlow "Stupid", etc., yada, yada. LMAO! I know that actors have to be smart to play dumb, case in point Marilyn Monroe, fer cryin' out loud.
Billie Burke was always so divine. I read the books she wrote. They tell fascinating reports of her life as Mrs. Florenz Ziegfeld, plus they give tips on makeup and how to hold on to your man. Priceless. "Just click your heels together, and there's no place like home." (Don't quote me exactly).
The doctor was a handsome hunk, and I think his wife was stupid for clinging to him like such a pathetic vine -- what with all his affairs in which he "couldn't help" getting involved. He didn't deserve his saint of a wife (from what I could see), at any rate. Today, the wife would go to a women's empowerment group, and find the strength to leave her multi-adulterous husband.
I like another Wallace Beery movie where Carmen Miranda is secretly teaching him how to dance, as a surprise for his wife. He gets into dutch when he is suspected of having a fling-on-the-side with the little South American hot tamale. Can't think of the name of the movie, though.
That's about all. I really liked this movie, and hope I can see it again. I see that other posters give this movie rave reviews. I have never seen it all the way through; always some interruptions. Still, if you read my other reviews you know that my favorites are always singing and dancing movies, but "Dinner at Eight" rates near the top of my ever-growing list. Really a 15/10.
This truly one of the finest ensemble cast films ever made. The story
line is engrossing and the cast is at the top of their game. The cast
includes indominatable Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, John Barrymore,
Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Edmund Lowe and Billie Burke to name a
few. Dressler's first seen is with Lionel Barrymore and her screen
presence is so strong, you forget for a moment that Barrymore is in the
room. And, her scene with Jean Harlow will stay with you long after the
movie is over. It is hilarious. The recognizable scene of Harlow lying
on a chaise lounge is from this movie.
If you see this one, grab it. It is a classic.
"Dinner at Eight" is an adult film. The reviewers who pan this film are
children. Of course, black and white and dead actors are of little interest
to today's fatuous movie-going public. It doesn't matter that the
juxtaposition of farce and tragedy, romance and suspense is perfectly
executed by the great George Cukor. It doesn't matter that the story is
carried by a brilliant cast, whose talent in this single film equals an
entire year's output by today's motley crew. Jean Harlow versus Julia
Roberts. John Barrymore versus Kenneth Branagh. Billie Burke versus Bette
Midler. George Cukor versus James Cameron. ARE YOU KIDDING?
I'm watching "Dinner at Eight" at this moment, watching John Barrymore and Lee Tracey. I'm watching Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. I'm watching Lionel Barrymore and Marie Dressler. I'm watching Billie Burke and May Robson. I'm watching Jean Hersholt, I'm watching Edmond Lowe. Of course these greats are lost on the brain dead half-wits who pass for today's audiences.
Some say they don't find the comedy in this film. Others say they don't like to see ACTORS ACTING. Still others only see a story about a bunch of people going to dinner. Watching this brilliant piece of film making makes these sophomoric put-downs all the more infuriating. But I suppose those who put "Godfather," "Star Wars" and "American Beauty" at the top of the Top 250 list can't be expected to like this film. The brilliant insights of others notwithstanding, this is not a camp classic for movie buffs - "Dinner at Eight" is a timeless classic rendition of the human condition, both comic and tragic. That is, for those perceptive enough to see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was the follow-up to 1932's best film GRAND HOTEL. MGM had
discovered that there was tremendous box office appeal if they had a
film with a roster of stars in all the main roles. In this case the
roles are played by Lionel and John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Lee
Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Philips Holmes, Jean Hersholt, Marie Dressler, Jean
Harlow, Billie Burke, Madge Blake, Karen Morley, Louise Closser Hale,
and Grant Mitchell. Mitchell adds a nice touch of brief asperity to the
proceedings as a relative by marriage dragged to the dreary dinner
party on the night he was planning to see a Greta Garbo movie. I take
it that George Kaufman was responsible for that little jab. Kaufman
wrote this screenplay with Edna Ferber (SO BIG, SHOWBOAT) from their
Broadway play - later they would do the masterly STAGEDOOR. The
director was George Cukor, who managed to get the best performances
from all of the players.
Lionel Barrymore is Oliver Jordan, married to Billie Burke (Millicent Jordan) and father to Madge Blake (Paula Jordan). Barrymore is the owner of a steamship line that is suddenly having financial difficulties. He is facing bankruptcy unless he can get help. He is also suffering from heart disease, and is keeping this from his family.
Barrymore turns to Dan Packard (Wallace Beery), a wealthy stock manipulator with political ambitions (he has been mentioned for a possible cabinet post). Packard is actually undermining Jordan's company to take it over. Barrymore is also checking into some of the stockholders. One is an old flame of his, Carlotta Vance - a great stage star of the teens (Marie Dressler). Carlotta is socially a success, but her financial security is not as good (this is the depression) and she may have to sell the stock for her own sake.
Burke is planning a large dinner party for the richest man in England, a steamship tycoon. Barrymore could really not care that much, but it might help his business. Packard is interested in the dinner party - his dreams of a large steamship empire could stand an English partner. So he wrangles an invitation for himself and his wife Kitty (Jean Harlow). Harlow is a toy wife (Packard's first wife died), and is a low class type who looks terrific. But she and Beery are constantly at odds about almost everything. She too is interested in attending the party because she wants to be socially accepted by the wealthy set. Also, her physician, Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) is attending with his nurse/wife Lucy (Karen Morley). Harlow is happy about that - she has been having an affair with Dr. Talbot.
Madge Blake has been engaged to Ernest DeGraff (Philips Holmes), but has wrangled a dinner invitation for Larry Renault (John Barrymore) a once great leading man, now headed for oblivion due to his alcoholism. Blake has been secretly having an affair with him. Renault's career is at a nadir, despite the work of his agent Max Kane (Lee Tracy). But Tracy has a last opportunity to save Renault with a small role in a play produced by Jo Stengel (Jean Hersholt). If the job is secured, Renault may not face eviction from the hotel he is currently in (managed by Edwin Maxwell).
All these elements come together in the last act, as chance, comic misunderstanding and farce, and tragedy are blended together to prevent some people from attending the dinner and others are invited in their place. Relationships are ended, and others are reinforced (for better or worse). The funniest performances are Dressler, Beery and Harlow as the battling Packards, and Burke (when she explodes in anger about her guests). The saddest is John Barrymore, who with the assistance of Cukor uses that great profile of his in a macabre final scene. But the dinner is still served to the guests who show up at 8:00 P.M. on the dot, and the final moment is gloriously shared by Mrs. Packard and Carlotta discussing literature and the future of man...and women.
This classic is deservedly remembered for its fine cast of star performers.
It also accomplishes the difficult feat of giving them all enough to do, and
letting each of them have interesting characters that get some good moments.
The result is an entertaining and enjoyable film.
Both the cast and their characters have a nice balance. The stars range from the flamboyant Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler, who gobble up the scenery in large mouthfuls, to the excellent Lionel Barrymore, who slips unobtrusively into any role he plays, with several other fine performers to join them. Their characters are also an assorted lot, all with their own concerns and plans. Their complex inter-relationships are not always particularly plausible, but they make for some fine scenes, and most of the time it holds together well enough. Quite a few things come to light, and you also feel that you have come to know about the characters and have a good idea where they are going in the future.
"Dinner At Eight" does justice to a fine cast, and is a movie that most fans of the classics will want to see.
DINNER AT EIGHT is a serious comedy drama. Hard for me to choose
another description. The film shows a set of relationships in people's
lives. Given the circumstances of such relationships can be real.
Usually the tragicomic.
The essence is incorporated in two segments. The existential and emotional. They are very close no matter how separated them. From a different perspective, this thesis would be proved correct. This movie is worth a look. Relationships are intertwined in a tragicomic story. Comedy and tragedy alternate in such continuity that the viewer realizes that nothing other than mild collapse will not happen. The collapse did not begin or end, it is the continuation of what is already known. With her existentially and emotionally evolved and continues.
The acting is pretty good. Marie Dressler (Carlotta Vance)was very good. It is a kind of link in the story. Lionel and John Barrymore (Oliver Jordan & Larry Renoult) can not be bad. They just good actors. Berry and Harlow (Dan and Kitty Packard) are incredibly entertaining. Dan acting stupidly next to Kitty. Kitty is the contemplation digger and probably naked under her dress. Billie Burke (Millicent Jordan) is in a good part of the film quite tiring.
In this film, the concept is clearly outclassed. Comedy and tragedy go in pairs. In this film, people should recognize. Humor, which predominates, is enveloped in one deceptive veil of inevitable tragedy that surrounds life. Honestly, I'm not thrilled as much as I thought I would be.
I remember hating this movie as a kid. Of course. This is an adult movie about adults. The dialog is brilliant but it is misleading to refer to it as a comedy. There are some of the most honest moments I ever experienced in a Hollywood movie. That isn't to say that there are many movies as entertaining as this one. But the John Barrymore scenes have a darkness that one is not likely to see topped. Dressler whose work is not seen much today was a towering presence. Billie Burke walks away with the movie with that gracious phony smile trying to cover up the most self centered of women. Lionel didn't have that whiny way of his that is usually annoying; his character is undoubtedly the one we love and pity the most. Harlow and Beery? They live up to everything anyone ever said about them and there is an undeniable love between their characters. I watched this tonight with two people who had never seen it and had been led to believe it was a screwball comedy; they were on the edge of their seats awaiting every line. When you are ready for this one, you will see the absolute genius.
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