We’re back again for a classic all-star film from 1933 that recently made its long-awaited debut on Blu-ray! That film, of course, would be Dinner At Eight, starring Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe and Billie Burke!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Big Ears (1931)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2 (1930-1931) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 21 minutes, 8 seconds)
Wheezer’s (Bobby Hutchins) parents fight constantly, and the word “divorce” is thrown around. When he finds out what “divorce” means, Wheezer turns to Stymie (Matthew Beard) and Dorothy (Dorothy DeBorba) for help in getting himself sick to keep them together. This one took a different turn with touchier subject matter than I would have expected for a children’s short. There is some humor to be found, mainly in Wheezer’s interactions with Stymie. The bickering parents aren’t as much fun (and I agree with Petey the dog’s response at the end). Maybe not as much fun as usual, but still an entertaining entry in the series!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Come To Dinner (1934)
(Available as an extra on the Dinner At Eight Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)
(Length: 22 minutes, 12 seconds)
In honor of a duke and duchess, the Jurgens host a dinner party for a few of their friends. This short was very much a parody of the movie Dinner At Eight, and it works quite well! They picked a lot of actors who look very similar to the cast of the film, and manage to make fun of various moments. I had read about it being a parody beforehand, so I watched the movie first (instead of watching the short first like I normally would do). It certainly works a lot better that way, and I enjoyed it almost as much as I did the movie itself, the humor worked so well!
And Now For The Main Feature…
When Lord and Lady Ferncliffe accept her invitation to dinner, society matron Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) eagerly plans a dinner party for some of her friends. Her husband, shipping magnate Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore), doesn’t look forward to the idea, but he decides to go along with it, while their daughter, Paula (Madge Evans) is preoccupied with something else. At work, Oliver meets with his friend (and former lover), actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler) (who has been invited to the dinner). She is presently broke, and is trying to find ways to sell off some of her properties, and even asks Oliver to buy back some of her stock in his company. However, it’s the time of the Great Depression, which means Oliver’s business has been hit, too, so he can’t buy it back. He meets with the self-made mining magnate Dan Packard (Wallace Beery), and asks him to help finance them for a while (at least, until the Depression is over). Dan is reluctant to do so, but when he arrives home later, he openly brags to his wife Kitty (Jean Harlow) that he plans to take over the Jordan Shipping Line via stock purchases. Kitty, meanwhile, is faking illness and staying in bed all day so that she can see Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) (with whom she is having an affair). However, she very much wants to get into society, and, when she receives an invitation to the dinner, she is determined to drag her husband there (which isn’t too hard, when he learns that the Ferncliffes, whom he has been wanting to meet for some time, are the guests of honor). On the day of the party, Millicent finds herself short one person when one guest comes down ill. Desperate, she tries calling movie actor Larry Renault (John Barrymore), who is in town to star in a play. Little does she know that Larry has been seeing her daughter Paula, who overhears the conversation from Larry’s end, and convinces him to accept the invitation to the party. As Paula leaves, Larry’s agent Max Kane (Lee Tracy) comes in, and tells him that the starring role in the play was being given to somebody else (partially due to a change in producers), and Max tries to convince him to take a bit part, if only to have something. Larry reluctantly considers the idea, if Max will bring the new producer around to see him. A very sick Oliver comes in to see Dr. Talbot at his office. Upon examining him, Dr. Talbot determines that Oliver is suffering from thrombosis of the heart (which could kill him at any time), but tries to hide this prognosis from Oliver (who isn’t fooled). When he gets home, Oliver tries to tell his wife that he is feeling poorly and needs rest. At the same time, his daughter Paula wants to tell them both about her relationship with Larry. However, neither of them manage to tell Millicent anything, as she is at her wits’ end after two of their servants get into a violent fight, which results in the food being ruined. On top of that, the Ferncliffes (you know, the guests of honor) have decided NOT to come to the party (and have gone to Florida instead). Meanwhile, Larry (who is an alcoholic) is thoroughly drunk as he prepares to go to the dinner. When Max arrives with the play’s new producer, Larry starts to berate him for trying to palm off a bit part on a “big star,” prompting the producer to leave. Left with no choice, Max tells Larry off and good, revealing how hard he had to work to get his washed-up client a chance at the bit part (revealing to Larry just how far his star had fallen). After Max leaves, the hotel management stops by and asks Larry to leave. In the midst of all these troubles, will that night’s dinner party turn out right, or will it be a complete disaster?
In 1932, MGM enjoyed great success with producer Irving Thalberg’s all-star film Grand Hotel, and they went about looking for another all-star vehicle. Irving Thalberg was able to secure the film rights to the 1932 George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber play Dinner At Eight, but some health problems (including a heart attack) forced him to take some time off to recuperate. Studio head Louis B. Mayer decided to try convincing his son-in-law David O. Selznick (who was working at RKO Studios at the time) to come over to MGM and form his own production unit there, sharing producing duties with Thalberg. Selznick brought over director George Cukor, and assembled an all-star cast, which included Marie Dressler in a role that differed from her usual type, and Jean Harlow (who was cast at the insistence of Selznick and Cukor, as she wasn’t previously regarded by the studio heads as being a great actress). With a great cast (some of whom helped contribute ideas for their characters) and great talent behind-the-scenes, the film turned out to be another hit at the box office for MGM.
Dinner At Eight is one of those big movies that I had heard of a long time ago, but never really got the chance to see (at least, not beyond the clip of the iconic exchange between Marie Dressler’s Carlotta Vance and Jean Harlow’s Kitty Packard that was included in the That’s Entertainment films). So when the recent Blu-ray release was announced, I felt it was high time that I saw it! Now, one thing I should admit beforehand. For the most part, my early impressions from what I had heard left me thinking that the film was going to be a comedy (at least, that’s what I was hearing until I saw what others were saying when the Blu-ray was announced, which is when I learned that it would be a bit more dramatic that I had previously thought). And I am glad that I heard that, as it kept the movie from being a disappointment to me. Yes, it does have its comedic moments, but this movie really classifies itself more as a dramedy (with a heavier emphasis on the drama). Regardless, I found it to be a very well-acted film! I’ve seen some of the actors in different films (like the Barrymores, Billie Burke and Jean Harlow), and some of the others were new faces to me. Everybody gave great performances here, which is indeed what makes it work, but I will readily admit that Marie Dressler and Jean Harlow essentially walk off with the film, as their acting was a thing to behold! Plain and simple, this movie’s reputation as a big classic is well-deserved, and I for one have no hesitation in giving it some of my highest recommendations!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. The new Blu-ray features a transfer made from a 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements. I’d love to come up with some extra fancy way of describing how this movie looks, but I prefer to keep it simple. As usual, Warner Archive has a winner here, with a great movie and a great transfer to show it off. Seriously, this is the best way to enjoy this fantastic film!
Film Length: 1 hour, 51 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
John Barrymore – Maytime (1937)
Lionel Barrymore – You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
Billie Burke – Merrily We Live (1938)
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