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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Movies like these don't get filmed anymore. The subject matter would
not appeal to an audience that today run to the hills at the mention of
the words "literate adaptation of a successful Broadway play" which
happens to be not about sexy murderesses or sexy bed hoppers, but of
people who talk and act in perfectly clipped words and mannered
affectations more often seen in such sitcoms like "FRASIER".
THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER is a perfect example of a film that remains dated due to its very subject matter. Screenwriters George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart came up with this hilarious story based on the personalities (as per them) of then-film critic Alexander Woollcott, playwright Noel Coward, and theatre actress Gertrude Lawrence, and in doing so created a smash Broadway hit that received this film version. Stories tell of John Barrymore being up for the part of Sheridan Whiteside (Woolcott) but being 'unable' to remember his lines, which prompted to keep theatre actor Monty Woolley from the original play. Monty breathes a massive amount of life into his smothering, capricious character and of course makes the movie all his. By his side, a perfect foil, is Bette Davis playing Maggie Cutler. The original role was not as large in the play but was expanded for this version and is the only time during her golden period in Hollywood when she stepped down and took a secondary role (though billed first, which must have helped make it a box-office hit). Ann Sheridan as theatre actress Lorraine Sheldon has the third billing and rips into her hysterical role. Watch her scenes with Bette: Maggie and Lorraine bait each other whenever they're on screen together but for the first time, do not watch Davis (who plays well as the quieter, servant female). Ann Sheridan looks like she's about to burst out of her clothes and tear right into Davis.
A near perfect cast: Billie Burke playing more of the same variation of the ditsy socialite, Reginald Gardner doing a great impersonation of Noel Coward (and sporting a great "stuttering" scene at a key point of the movie) and especially Mary Wickes, playing Mrs. Preen, a nurse in attendance of Sheridan who cracks under the pressure of so much craziness. A fantastic, wonderful comedy.
George S. Kaufman co-wrote this play-turned-film based on the real-life
characters with whom he regularly associated. Alexander Woolcott, the
famed Broadway critic was the inspiration for Sheridan Whiteside, a
publicly loved figure who's private, curmudgeonly demeanor was less
than idyllic. Kaufman even went so far as to have Whiteside
occasionally sing jibberish with a child's speech impediment, which was
a practice of Woolcott's.
Monty Wooley brilliantly delivers the Groucho-like insults penned with supreme wit by the Marxian play and film write. Kaufman, of course, co-wrote many of the Marx's best works and was a good friend of Harpo, upon whom the character "Banjo" is based.
The entire cast is brilliant save for Richard Travis who, while not distractingly bad, is somewhat outclassed by the likes of Bette Davis, Billie Burke, Mary Wickes, and Reginald Gardiner.
All in all, this is solid comedy that bears repeated seasonal viewing. I can't figure out why it's not on DVD. That's not true. I CAN figure it out. I doubt it would sell large numbers of copies given movie audiences' limited awareness of the film. What I meant was, I wish it were available on DVD.
Not so much a Christmas movie as it is a movie that happens to take
place during the Christmas season. This 1942 farce has a rude and
elitist author/lecturer/high society man falling on the icy steps of an
Ohio businessman and being forced to stay in the man's home for weeks.
Monty Wolley plays Sheridan Whiteside who seems to have contempt to one
degree or another for everyone around him. He felt it beneath him to
even be somewhere like Ohio in the first place, and he is determined to
make life miserable for everyone once he is marooned there. Whiteside
has a put down ready for almost everything anyone says to him. His
lines of dialog pretty much range from condescending flattery to
outright insults. And let it be said here, that he is almost always
Bette Davis plays Whiteside's personal secretary who falls in love with a local newspaper man and aspiring playwright. Davis confesses her intent to settle down with the handsome young man, and this is a matter of great concern for Whiteside since he would be nearly helpless without her. Even though his injuries have healed, he continues to act as though he is confined to a wheelchair for much of the picture. And most of the plot deals with Whiteside attempting to sabotage his secretary's blossoming romance.
The film lasts for nearly two hours and seldom lets the viewer up for air. This is a film that you may have to see several times to notice every clever line or plot development. And since it was originally a play, most of it takes place in one room. That being the living room of the put-upon Ohio businessman and his brow-beaten family. Along the way, Whiteside begins meddling in the lives of others, as well. He practically incites a rebellion by the couple's teenage children. He comes up with more insults than one can count for his nurse. And some of the funniest moments deal with an aging doctor attempting to get Whiteside to look at his manuscript about his profession. Many famous people appear and are referred to throughout the film. Most of the pop culture references are really dated, but not so much that it really bogs the film down. The acting is wonderful. Jimmy Durante and Ann Sheridan liven things up in support. The film is rather smug in how it was written by and about famous people who obviously look down on normal Midwestern folk. But the humor is harmless, and all too enjoyable. 10 of 10 stars.
The Man Who Came to Dinner is a little uneven, but it's mostly entertaining. The unevenness comes mainly from the dullness of the budding relationship which the film holds in focus. The original play is very well written, especially the dialogue. It was actually performed at my high school when I was there. But its the cast here that excels. Monty Woolley is great in the titular role. He plays Sheridan Whiteside to absolute perfection. Bette Davis is quite good as his secretary, but the role is actually somewhat below her standards. I'm sure she took the role because she loved the play so much and was sure it'd be a hit, but that role is pretty dull. Ann Sheridan perhaps gives the film's most memorable performance as an egotistical Hollywood diva who's not sure whether she wants to marry British nobility for money or just chase around cute guys. Also noteworthy are Billie Burke as Mrs. Stanley, the Ohio society woman who invites Whiteside to dinner, Reginald Gardiner as an eloquent celebrity friend of Whiteside (far underused), and the incredibly insane Jimmy Durante as Banjo. He comes into the film very late, but he very nearly steals the show. 8/10.
This witty and wonderful Christmas classic has been neglected in recent years, but thanks to Turner Classic Movies it is once again being introduced to grateful audiences. Monty Woolley is fabulous as the brilliant writer and radio star, the curmudgeonly Sheridan (Sherry) Whiteside. Bette Davis is low key and perfect as his savvy personal secretary, Maggie Cutler, and Ann Sheridan is at her very, very best as the beautifully selfish and completely hilarious theatre star, Lorraine Sheldon. Reginald Gardiner,the fabulous English comedic actor and Jimmy Durante both sparkle in their brief but pivotal cameos. There are more classic one-liners in this script than you can count, but you'll enjoy trying!
This is one of the great film comedies of all time. Monty Woolley is priceless as the uppity celebrity who comes to dinner and stays and stays, causing havoc to a socially upper-crust household. The rest of the cast is superb too. Don't miss this film. It is a gem and a joy.
This movie is still as funny every time I see it as it was the very first time. The characters are all very solidly defined and the storyline even today has a spark of brilliance to it. The viewer is swept along throughout the entire length of the film, the dialogue mostly sharp, witty and fast paced. The dizzying speed of the succession of events in no way detracts from the film, rather adding to a sense of panic in empathy for the poor family hosting the eponymous gentleman, whilst at the same time inspiring an almost malicious anticipation to see what he will inflict upon them next. A true classic with wonderful energy and more than a few surprises, this is one to buy on DVD (if available) so you can watch and enjoy it again and again.
This movie never fails to lift my spirits, giving me so many laughs I have lost count. Everyone in this movie is absolutely delightful! There are never enough good things to say about Monty Wooley, & Bette Davis is great, as always. Good to see her comedic side. I believe this is one of the very best comedies I have ever seen - - actually probably the best. I was so happy to find it out on DVD. If you are a lover of good comedy, this is a do not miss! Even the lesser known players are superb. Too bad Hollywood does not make this kind of movie anymore. Ann Sheridan is the perfect glamour girl, Reginald Gardiner is one of a kind, & Jimmy Durante is so funny. I read this was Mary Wickes's first film. She is a gem! I certainly miss all of these stars.
Screenwriters Moss Hart & George S. Kaufmann created this hilarious
story based upon the personas of playwright Noel Coward, film critic
Alexander Woollcott, and theater actress Gertrude Lawrence. It became a
Broadway hit, then this box-office sensation. Bette Davis convinced
Warner Brothers to make this film.
When "The Man Who Came To Dinner," Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley), an eccentric author & radio lecturer, & his secretary, Maggie Cutler (Bette Davis), arrive at the home of a prominent Ohio family, the Stanleys, Whiteside injures his leg, slipping at his hosts' entrance. After a doctor (George Barbier) tells Whiteside that his leg is broken & he can't leave, the eccentric guest who had only come to dinner wreaks havoc by meddling in everyone else's lives in a proper family's home! Whiteside is especially bent upon keeping Maggie (Davis) unmarried & employed as his secretary who manages all of his life affairs. She's fallen in love, wants to marry & leave her job. Whiteside even bribes the doctor to remain silent after learning nothing's wrong with his leg! When Mr. Stanley uncovers their fraud, Whiteside blackmails him by holding an old family secret over his head. Though, Whiteside's plot to keep Maggie doesn't fool her, it is the central comedy performance of the movie.
Maggie Cutler (Davis) is a perfect foil for Whiteside (Woolley). Her original role was not as central in the stage play. It was expanded for film. Playing a secretary is the only time during Davis' golden 40's period in Hollywood when she accepted a supporting role. However, Davis was billed first in order to make the movie box-office hit. It's a delightful Christmas comedy.
Here's a typical exchange between 'Sheri' & Maggie: Sheridan Whiteside: I simply will not sit down to dinner with Midwestern barbarians, I think too highly of my digestive system.
Maggie Cutler: Harry Clarke is one of your oldest friends.
Sheridan Whiteside: My stomach is an older one.
Maggie Cutler: And Mrs. Stanley is President of the women's club.
Sheridan Whiteside: I wouldn't care if she was the whole cabinet.
Banjo (Jimmy Durante) delivers some memorable comical one-liners, as well.
After nearly 60 years, "The Man Who Came To Dinner" still ranks as the most hilarious film ever committed to celluloid. Though censorship at the time required some of Kaufman and Hart's ribald dialogue to be toned down, no matter! Monty Woolley's performance is priceless, but Bette Davis, for once in a subdued, non-star performance, provides the heart of the movie and is achingly touching in her subtle evocation of a down-trodden secretary finally discovering love--and in danger of losing her Romeo to the ravishing, outrageously man-eating Ann Sheridan. A perfect film for Christmas viewing (thanks to its exquisite black-and-white cinematography capturing a greeting card background for the non-stop lunacy in the foreground). A perfect film for any day of the year. I've seen other versions--the TV production with Orson Welles, the Broadway musical in the late 1960s, the recent Broadway revival with Nathan Lane. They all pale when compared to this definitive, timeless, masterpiece!
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