The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • An acerbic critic wreaks havoc when a hip injury forces him to move in with a Midwestern family.

  • Lecturer Sheridan Whiteside slips on the ice on his way into the home of a prominent Ohio family. The local doctor says Whiteside must remain confined having broken his leg. He begins to meddle with the lives of everyone in the household and, once his plots are underway, learns there is nothing wrong with his leg. He bribes the doctor and resumes control of the household.

  • While noted acerbic wit, cultural critic, and egotistical radio personality Sheridan Whiteside is on a lecture tour in a small provincial town in Ohio, he condescends to have dinner at the house of dizzy matron Daisy Stanley, wife of a local conservative businessman. Whiteside slips and falls on their front steps, breaking his hip and forcing him to recuperate in their house. He immediately takes over the entire household with a combination of threats, intimidation, and acid-tongued wit, exiling the Stanleys to the second floor. He holds court in the living room for his wide circle of friends, runs up staggering long-distance bills to world leaders, monopolizes the Stanley servants, and populates the house with a menagerie of exotic animals. Unfortunately for the demanding Whiteside, Maggie Cutler, his trusted secretary and indispensable girl Friday, has fallen in love with a local newspaper man. Although he is pronounced well and free to leave by the local doctor, Sherry feigns his infirmity in order to find away to keep Maggie with him.

  • In the lead up to Christmas, famed New York-based national radio host and general man about town Sheridan Whiteside is on a national speaking tour, traveling by train, the schedule for him to make it to Los Angeles in time for his traditional Christmas Eve broadcast. Despite his beloved public image, he is a difficult, acerbic-tongued man who always needs to get his own way, he using his bluster often to get it. His longtime faithful secretary, spinster Maggie Cutler, is arguably the only person who can handle him when he gets on his tirades, she who in turn uses her own straightforward manner to control him for her own needs in getting her job done. As such, he hates to admit that he considers her indispensable. Sherry has disdain for this tour if only needing to kowtow to all the, what he considers, backward yokels, especially through Middle America, those living in their first stop, Mesalia, Ohio, being no exception, there where he is to have dinner with the town's leading family, the Stanleys, upon arriving. It is on the Stanleys' icy front steps that Sherry slips, falls and ends up being incapacitated, temporarily wheelchair-bound. In return for not suing the Stanleys, Sherry, with Maggie in tow, ends up staying at the Stanley house until he is able enough to continue with his travels, he overtaking the Stanley house with his usual bluster in the process. The situation is much to the consternation of the family patriarch, Ernest Stanley, who doesn't care about Sherry's celebrity in comparison to the disruption he is to their lives. By the time Sherry has fully recuperated, Maggie has fallen in love with Bert Jefferson, the town's newspaper man and an aspiring playwright, and wants to give up her life with Sherry to become Mrs. Bert Jefferson. Sherry doesn't feel he can afford to lose Maggie, and concocts a plan to keep her in his employ, especially as he truly but mistakenly believes that Maggie is suffering from puppy love and not true love and will snap out of it once out of Bert's life. The plan includes Sherry not telling anyone that he has recovered, he miraculously doing so at the plan's completion, and using the somewhat unwitting assistance of his successful actress friend, Lorraine Sheldon, a diva and status-hungry woman who is to use her charms and professional sway on Bert.

  • Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and Monty Woolley star in the 1942 comedy, The Man Who Came to Dinner, based on the hit Broadway play. Famed author Sheridan Whiteside possesses a tongue dipped in venom and a brain that can crack The New York Times crossword in four minutes. On a lecture tour in Ohio, he slips on the ice and is confined to the home of a bourgeois couple. He proceeds to plunge the household into chaos, ruling the place like a czar and meddling in everyone's love life. Monty Woolley reprises his Broadway triumph as the imperious Whiteside in this delightful, lightning-paced farce. A who's who of Hollywood talents portray a who's who of thinly veiled real-life luminaries, ranging from Gertrude Lawrence to Harpo Marx. And Bette Davis shines in an uncharacteristic role as Whiteside's unflappable secretary. The Man Who Came to Dinner: It's a feast of wit and sophistication.

  • Sheridan Whiteside, an eccentric and acid-tongued radio lecturer, is disabled on the doorstep of a prominent Ohio family and must remain confined to the unwilling family's home for a few days. Discovering what he believes to be problems within the household, hatches a plot to fix all of the household's problems. Sheridan ("Sherry") then proceeds to find out that his leg is fine so he bribes the doctor to declare him unfit to leave for a few weeks so he can meddle with the lives of the members of the household. But has he made a mistake?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Popular radio broadcaster Sheridan Whiteside arrives in Mesalia, Ohio, where he is to give a lecture. Against his will, he must first dine at the home of Ernest and Daisy Stanley, but climbing the snowy steps to the house, Sherry falls and hurts his hip. The Stanleys' staff is overwhelmed by the get-well presents and phone calls that the bedridden Sherry receives, and Sherry runs the household ragged with his demands. When Sherry finally emerges from his sick bed in a wheel chair, it is to announce that he plans to sue the Stanleys for $150,000. He then commandeers the downstairs rooms, the telephone, and the cook and butler for himself and his secretary, Maggie Cutler. Bert Jefferson, the handsome young owner of the local paper, asks the broadcaster for an interview, and Sherry instructs Maggie to turn him away. Bert charms Sherry, however, and is invited to lunch along with five convicts from Sherry's fan club at the state penitentiary. While Sherry rules the downstairs, the Stanleys and their two children, Richard and June, are confined to the upstairs. Although Ernest demands that Sherry leave their home immediately, Sherry counters that he will sue for an even larger sum if he has to leave. Meanwhile, Maggie and Bert go skating together, and Bert reads her a play that he has written. Maggie thinks it is so good that she gives it to Sherry, hoping he will send it to his friend, actress Katherine Cornell. When Sherry learns that Maggie has fallen in love with Bert and intends to marry him, he determines to break up the affair and keep his secretary. He telephones his friend, Lorraine Shelton, a glamorous actress, and suggests that she could have the lead role in Bert's play if she came to town right away. Sherry then learns that his hip was never injured, but that the doctor had looked at the wrong x-rays. Sherry, however, is determined to stay in town long enough to prevent Maggie from marrying Bert. He also suggests that June and Richard leave home so that June can marry Sandy, a union organizer who is working at her father's ball bearing plant, and Richard can pursue his interest in photography. On Christmas Eve, Bert gives Maggie a charm bracelet and Ernest's strange sister Harriet gives Sherry a picture of herself as a young woman. After Lorraine arrives in town, dressed in furs and jewels, Sherry warns her not to mention the play in front of Maggie and urges her to use her charms on Bert. Lorraine immediately goes to work on Bert, but Maggie quickly understands Sherry's intentions. She thinks her problem is solved when writer Beverly Carlton arrives and does a devastating imitation of Lorraine's latest millionaire lover, Lord Bottomley. At Maggie's request, Beverly telephones from the train station, pretending to be Lord Bottomley, and asks Lorraine to marry him. At first Sherry is furious that his plans are failing, but when Bert innocently mentions seeing Beverly phoning from the station, Sherry reveals the trick to Lorraine, who then doubles her attentions to Bert. On Christmas morning, after Maggie quits her job, a drunken Bert tells her he is going away with Lorraine to work on his play. Then a penguin that was sent as a gift to Sherry bites his nurse, Miss Preen, and she quits, and Ernest finds his runaway children and hires a couple of sheriffs to evict Sherry. In the midst of this chaos, Sherry's friend Banjo arrives from Hollywood, and a contrite Sherry, realizing that Maggie really loves Bert, begs him to get rid of Lorraine. The two men maneuver Lorraine into a mummy case, and Sherry, having recognized Harriet as an ax murderer, blackmails Ernest into taking the case to the airport. With Maggie's happiness now assured, Sherry warns Ernest that his children should be allowed to follow their own paths, "Or else." To everyone's great relief, Sherry is on his way out, but then he falls down the slippery steps and is carried back into the Stanley house to begin his reign of terror all over again.

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