DINNER AT EIGHT is often referred to as a comedy, and while there are some marvelous comic moments, this film is no more a comedy than THE GODFATHER. I think one reason it is thought to be a comedy is the final lines of the film, where the decidedly unbookish Jean Harlow tells Marie Dressler that she had been reading in a book (a revelation that visibly jolts Dressler) that in the future all jobs would be done by machines. After eye-balling Harlow from toe to head she assures her, "Oh, my dear. That's something you need never worry about." There are other humorous moments, but the truth is that while the tone of the film might often be humorous, the form of the film is tragic. Yes, the destruction of the Jordan shipping company has been prevented by Jean Harlow's character blackmailing her husband, who has been trying to buy a majority of the company shares via a proxy, but it doesn't change the sense of precariousness that pervades the film. In many ways, this is one of the great films dealing with the end of the twenties and the effects of the stock market crash. Although the film revolves around a hostess's efforts to throw a lavish dinner party, virtually every individual invited is suffering from problems of one sort or another. The aging actress, long retired, is strapped for cash. The actor, a former matinee idol, has been revealed as a former pretty face by the advent of the talking film; he now is unable to find work and utterly broke. The shipping magnate, whose wife is organizing the dinner party, is suffering both from financial woes and ill health, and is in danger of losing the company that has bourn the family name for nearly a century. The only individuals, in fact, who are thriving and doing well are the crude, ill-bred Packards, who are gaining in wealth as rapidly as all of those in the upper crust of society are losing theirs. Few films in Hollywood history have been as fixated on class as this. Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufmann, the authors of the original stage play, were always attuned to such issues in their work, and there is almost an anthropological air as they analyze the changes taking place in the upper rings of society.
The film features one of the most celebrated ensemble casts ever seen. Brothers John and Lionel Barrymore have no scenes together, but apart they provide many great moments. This was one of the last films that Lionel made while he was still able to ambulate normally. Throughout the thirties arthritis and a serious hip injury made it increasingly difficult for him to walk, sometimes feigning onscreen injuries (such as a supposed broken leg in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, that gave him an excuse to wield a crutch), always sitting as much as possible. His brother John suffered even more decline, in his case brought on by the same kind of excessive drinking we see in his character. There is, however, a great deal of difference between Barrymore and Larry Renault, the actor he portrays. Renault is a has-been, a former pretty face with no real acting talent. Barrymore possessed prodigious talent, and despite his increasing drinking difficulties managed to find a great deal of work throughout his decline, even if what he mainly played was a series of drunks. The film creates an odd time warp for me, since in 1933 both John and Lionel were aging, yet 72 years later John's granddaughter and Lionel's great niece Drew is still quite young.
One of the joys of the film is being able to see the great Marie Dressler as aging former stage actress Carlotta Vance. Despite being extremely overweight and possessing looks that could only be described as extremely unpleasant, one noticed her appearance only briefly after seeing her in action. One of the great stage performers of her day, for some reason Dressler never managed much success in film during the silent era. Ironically, after age had ravaged her looks and her obesity increase, she unexpectedly became one of the first great stars of the sound film, winning an Oscar for one film and a nomination for another, and completely upstaging Greta Garbo in her first sound film. DINNER AT EIGHT is not Dressler's greatest performance, but for most film fans it is the most readily obtainable one. Tragically, shortly after the film was released she was diagnosed with cancer, and she died less than a year after the film's release. It is a fitting tribute to her that the best and final moment of this film was created by her stunned reaction to Harlow's stating that she had been reading a book.
The vivacious Billie Burke had been recently widowed when she starred in the film as Mrs. Jordan, her husband no less than the greatest of Broadway impresarios, Florence Ziegfield. She sparkles in every scene in which she appears. Wallace Beery always came across as a bit of a bull in a china shop, and here the china shop is anything to do with social grace. There is also a hint in his character of the way the country as a whole was changing, as the men who know their way around money started supplanting the traditional aristocracy. Jean Harlow's hair always struck me as a bit surreal, but there is no question that she possessed an earthy sexiness and beauty that was unique in thirties Hollywood. Although she is the secret savior of the Jordan family, she is hardly an angel, playing someone who is a a former stripper or worse, a current adulteress, and hopelessly uncouth and crude. But she also manages to be the most charming character in the film. The film also features one of Lee Tracy's finest screen performances. Tracy's film career was more or less destroyed shortly after this one due to an international political incident he generated during a moment of extreme inebriation, but he is superb here as Barrymore's long-suffering agent.
The film was one of George Cukor's first great films, and while he is often said to have been a great women's director, the truth is that he was simply superb with people talking. Cukor always managed to make people simply talking tremendously exciting.
The quality of the print used in the production of the DVD is extraordinary high. I've rarely seen a DVD with a brighter or cleaner image, and the film looks as if it could have been released yesterday. I'd have to rate this as one of the cleanest versions of an early 1930s film I have ever seen.
Dinner At Eight is an outstanding movie with great acting, a fine plot even if a bit complicated, and a wonderful cast! The movie held my attention every step of the way; and it's a much more artistic film with much more social commentary than I expected.
When the action begins, Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) is obsessively planning a dinner party. Unbeknownst to Millicent, her husband Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore) is suffering from serious, life threatening heart problems--and their steamship freighter enterprise is going broke after a century-long life of being the family business.
As if that weren't enough, there's plenty more people with serious financial and personal problems that showcase human foibles as well the toll the depression took on even the wealthiest of people after the stock market crash. We meet Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), an older actress who is broke. Carlotta sells her stock in the Jordan shipping business to stay alive; and she's not the only one selling her stock on that fateful day when so much of the Jordan stock is sold that the family fortune just might be in jeopardy. There is Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) and his wife Lucy (Karen Morley) who tolerates Wayne's never-ending marital infidelities; and we also see that the only people climbing up the ladder are the comparatively crude and unsophisticated couple Dan and Kitty Packard (Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow).
Throughout the movie there are vignettes that display how cruel life can be. There is a rather long scene in which we see the poignant suffering of a man who was huge in silent pictures and who has gone broke and "washed up" now that the "talkies" are in style. John Barrymore brilliantly plays Larry Renault and his story is told with great care and sophistication. I admire the way George Cukor directed Larry Renault's part of the story.
Of course, the plot can go anywhere from here--how will Larry Renault handle the fact that he's through in show business? What happens when Lucy Talbot catches her husband Wayne cheating on her yet again--this time with Kitty Packard? How do the Packards even manage to stay together--they fight all the time. Moreover, when and how will Millicent Jordan ever come back down to Earth and realize that there are many things in life that are infinitely more important than her dinner party? No plot spoilers, here, folks--you'll just have to watch the movie to find out!
The DVD's best extra is a Sharon Stone hosted featurette on Jean Harlow which is very well done. The Vitaphone short "Come To Dinner" is amusing as well.
Dinner At Eight is a film that has so many wonderful actors and so much depth and meaning that it simply must be seen to be truly appreciated. I highly recommend this film for fans of the actors and classic movie buffs will cherish this DVD for years to come.
on May 7, 2002
This is one of my favorite films - not just of the 1930s, but of all time. Rarely have I seen elements of both comedy and tragedy blended together so smoothly and seemingly effortlessly. The movie is nearly 70 years old now. Naturally, some parts of it are dated. Still, I suspect it was rather advanced in its views at the time. One character, Carlotta Vance [Marie Dressler], for example, is a faded beauty in her 60s who was once a great star. Instead of voicing regret that she has had many lovers and has always used men to advance herself financially, she exudes the confidence of one who has lived life to the fullest. And watch as she counsels the young Paula Jordon, who has taken and older lover and has decided to dump her dashing young fiancé. No moral platitudes from Carlotta, just some sage advice. In fact, all of the female characters are strikingly independent, despite the fact that men are, by necessity, their main source of income. I like these women!
MGM intentionally assembled the greatest cast it had on hand at the time. These were stars the public loved to see. This is from the days where there really were parts for older actresses. Ms. Dressler, who leads the cast in the credits, was sixty-five. The divine Billie Burke [Millicent Jordon], who I think was one of the funniest actresses who ever lived, was forty-eight. Jean Harlow, who plays the social climbing Kitty Packard, was just twenty-two, and Madge Evans [Paula] was twenty-four. Unlike today, the two older stars were not forced into subordinate roles. All of the actresses' parts have equal weight.
We have both Lionel and John Barrymore. John gives a heart-wrenching performance as Larry Renault, the alcoholic, washed up matinee idol Paula has fallen for. The role is eerily similar to his own life. Wallace Beery is hysterical as the oafish self-made millionaire, Dan Packard.
The plot is fairly simple. Millicent is planning a dinner party for the much sought after Lord and Lady Ferncliff, but trials and tribulations await her at every turn. Meanwhile, Oliver is about to lose the family shipping business. Carlotta thinks she is broke. Kitty is having an affair with a society doctor. And so forth. But the movie is about more than just a storyline. It's about great actors playing great characters. Times have changed, and so has society. Emotions haven't, and this is one emotionally charged movie. It remains fascinating and, in many ways, relevant. Best of all, it is great entertainment. And I almost forgot to mention the director was the inimitable George Cukor, one of the best who ever lived.
on March 5, 2005
MGM, the studio with "more stars than there are in heaven" had only recently proved their point by putting six of their top talents in one film; "Grand Hotel" (1932). A clean sweep at the Oscars, the success prompted David O. Selznick - then a rival producer on the backlot - to devise his own all star melodrama of merit with "Dinner At Eight" (1933). The plot is threadbare but serviceable. Affluent hostess, Millicent Jordon (Billie Burke) is so enraptured at the prospect of throwing the society party of the decade that she eschews all other concerns in favor of the frivolities associated with such a swank soiree. Her roster of guests include the boorish social climber, Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) and his much younger wife of hot body but low class, Kitty (Jean Harlow), aging grand dame of the theater, Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), family physician, Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) and desperate has-been movie actor, Larry Renault (John Barrymore). Millicent's husband, the kind-hearted, good natured Oliver (Lionel Barrymore) has just discovered that he is fatally ill. However, acknowledging his wife's lack of feeling for anyone but herself, Oliver decides to forego divulging his diagnosis, presumably until after the party.
What is most engaging and impressive about Selznick's take on the all star spectacle is that, unlike "Grand Hotel", he does not afford any one actor particular preference or even attempt to evenly space their on screen time. Rather, there is a strange sense - particularly from a star system as galvanic as MGM's - that the people being observed are just common folk on route to a flashy night on the town. The film also gives DVD audiences their only chance to admire the comedic stylings of one of Vaudeville's most gifted former actresses - Marie Dressler. In girth, stature and poignancy, Dressler is at her personal zenith - delving high comedy and low melodrama with equal panache. At one point in the evening, after having been told by Harlow's character that a book has explained that machinery is going to take the place of every profession, Dressler casually eyes the sultry Harlow from head to toe before commenting, "Oh my dear, that's one thing you need never worry about."
Warner Bros. DVD treatment of this classic star vehicle is about on par with their lack luster previous treatment of "Grand Hotel". Although the gray scale can exhibit some nicely balanced contrasts, solid blacks and clean whites, more often there is a sense that contrast levels are a tad too low and blacks are more deep gray than black. There is, at times, an excessive amount of age related artifacts for an image that is rarely smooth or easy on the eyes. Film grain is also obtrusive. The audio has been cleaned up but exhibits a fairly noticeable background hiss throughout. The Sharon Stone hosted bio on Harlow - which is all too brief, and a short subject: "Come to Dinner" are all the extras you get. A shame.
on March 2, 2005
Priceless cast in one of the best films of the '30's. A socialite frantically tries to pull off an A-list dinner party as everything crumbles around her at the last minute. Billie Burke (a few years from her turn as Glinda the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz") is matchless as the fluttery Mrs.Jordan, the wealthy matron. The A-list cast includes Marie Dressler as a faded stage star, both Barrymores Lionel and John, and Jean Harlow as the social-climbing wife of Wallace Beery. The George S.Kaufman-Edna Ferber comedy-drama (based on the play) is good on the screen with George Cukor directing the multi-layered plot and sub-plots that somehow never get confusing. There's too much going on in "Dinner at Eight" to go into but suffice it to say it's as completely satisfying now as it was in 1934. A classic to be treasured. While the acting is top notch all round, it's Dressler as Carlotta Vance and Harlow who pull out the stops and nearly walk off with the film. Their meeting at the end results in one of the funniest lines in movie history expertly delivered by Dressler. A must for vintage film collectors. The DVD print is fine. Enjoy.
Dinner at Eight was one of the earliest star studded blockbusters. It followed the tremendous success of "Grand Hotel" the year before, and has several carryovers - John and Lionel Barrymore, Jean Hersholt, and Wallace Beery as actors, and William Daniels as the cinematographer with William Axt providing the score. To this they added Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, and Billie Burke.
The film is based on the Broadway play of the same name by George S Kaufman and Edna Ferber. It was adapted to the screen by Herman Mankiewicz, Frances Marion, and Donald Stewart.
This was a powerhouse of talent -
* Wallace Beery had been nominated as Best Actor for his role in "The Big House" (1930) and won for "The Champ" (1932),
* The Barrymores were Broadway royalty and had just appeared together in "Rasputin" (1932) as well as "Grand Hotel" (1932), John had an enormous success with "Svengali" (1931) and Lionel had won the Best Actor for "A Free Soul" (1930).
* Marie Dressler won the Oscar in 1930 for "Min and Bill" (Beery was the co-star) and was nominated again in 1932 for "Emma".
* Jean Harlow was MGM's hottest rising star with enormous successes in "Platinum Blonde" (1931), "The Beast of the City" (1932), "Scarface" (1932), "Red Dust" (1932) and "Red Headed Woman" (1932).
Look for Jean Hersholt who makes a brief appearance as John Barrymore's producer. Also note that John and Lionel never play a scene together. This was not uncommon. The brothers often feuded and could go months without speaking to each other. Many of the screen appearances have them working independently.
Often spoken of as a comedy, (e.g., AFI ranks it #85 in its list of 100 top comedies) buyer beware - the comedy is about as sporadic as the gulps for air of a drowning man, and the plot of the film resembles people being sucked down the social and economic drain. This is a Depression era melodrama, not a comedy, even if it is interspersed with the occasional laugh. Here's a brief overview of some of the main characters -
* A third generation shipping magnet (Lionel Barrymore) whose health is failing and whose business is on the rocks.
* A greedy and less than honest businessman (Beery) who stays in an adulterous union to pursue his political career.
* A drunken, womanizing, suicidal, actor (John Barrymore) whose best days are past him and who is on the verge of bankruptcy.
* A self absorbed housewife (Billie Burke) who is more concerned with her dinner party than her husband's health and her daughter's scandalous affair.
Not exactly light faire.
George Cukor (1899-1983) directs. Cukor was nominated 5 times for an Oscar and won once ("My Fair Lady") in 1964. He's best known for his comedies ( "The Philadelphia Story", "Adams Rib", "Born Yesterday", "Pat and Mike") but was equally capable with drama ("Romeo and Juliet", "A Star is Born", "Gaslight"). He's famous for saying "Don't just do something, stand there!" All things considered, this is one of Cukor's poorer efforts. Basically he has decided to treat the film as a play, and shoots it accordingly.
This was David Selznick's (1902-1965) first film for MGM after leaving RKO (where he worked with Cukor). Selznick would go on to produce such Oscar nominated classics as "Viva Villa" (1934), "David Copperfield" (1935), "Anna Karenina" (1935), "A Tale of Two Cities" (1935), "A Star is Born", and, of course, "GWTW" (1939). For a Selznick film the production values are exceedingly poor, even down to the trappings of the rich and famous.
Williams Daniels (1901-70) is the cinematographer. Daniels was a favorite of Erich von Stroheim and also Greta Garbo who used him in all but 2 of her films. Daniels lensed more than 150 films. He was nominated 3 times ("Anna Christie", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "How the West was Won") and won once ("Naked City" in 1948). Daniels camerawork follows Cukor's lead - you are watching a play.
"Dinner at Eight" is one of those interesting 1930s films that shows its heritage from the silent era. Dressler and John Barrymore provide excellent examples of silent screen acting, and while it works well on the sound stage since they were both great actors at their core, silent or sound, it is essentially silent screen acting. The camera work is also very much like the standard silent film - a static camera that rarely moves, focused on medium shots for 30 seconds of more, with the occasional two shot. Actors exit and enter while the static camera remains motionless, as if we were watching a play. What is remarkable about this film is that a year earlier, in "Grand Hotel", the camera work is modern and fluid and yet it's also an MGM film and also photographed by Daniels.
What is strange is that while the camera work is vintage 20s, there is virtually no background music. William Axt (1888-1959) was primarily a silent film composer, working on films like "The Mark of Zorro" (1922), "Greed" (1924), "Ben Hur" (1925),and "While the City Sleeps" (1928). He continued working through 1940 when he retired.
"Dinner at Eight" was #2 at the box office. The New York Times and Film Daily said it was one of the 10 best films of the year.
1933 was a good year for films. Box office hits were Mae West's "I'm no Angel" and "She Done Him Wrong", Roby Keeler and Dick Powell in "42nd Street", "King Kong", and Garbo in "Queen Christina". The Oscar winners were "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (Actor), "Morning Glory" (Actress) and "Cavalcade" (Picture). Other notable films released that year included the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup", Laurel and Hardy's classic "Sons of the Desert", and "The Invisible Man". Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made their film duo debut in "Flying Down to Rio". FWIW - 1933 was the year that Walt Disney referred to the gold statue as an "Oscar" when he won it for "The Three Little Pigs".
Despite the poor camerawork, the depressing script, and the lack of any background music, the film contains marvelous performances. Marie Dressler is a hoot, and Jean Harlow, in addition to being Harlow, gets a chance to shape her comedic skills which would emerge more strongly as time went on. John Barrymore gives a tremendous performance, especially in his final scene by the fireplace, and Billie Burke is hilarious as the oblivious housewife whose world is crumbling around her while her biggest worry is that she will have to serve crabmeat instead of aspic as her appetizer.
My mother used to use the expression "dinner at eight" to refer to the high-drama that always precedes the launching of a party. She must have seen this 1933 film and it obviously influenced her for her entire life. It wasn't until last night, however, that I, myself, saw this film on DVD. And I must say that I can now well understand the effect it had on my mother and on her generation.
I've heard tales, read books and seen films about the Great Depression on America and what life was like in 1933. But this film is neither a documentary about those times, nor a writer's analysis. "Dinner at Eight" is the real thing. It put me right there in the time and the place and, even though times have changed, the human drama is timeless. Originally, it was a play written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber and really does seem like a film version of a play, even though it was adapted for the screen. All of the scenes are set indoors and people make their entrances and exits through doorways rather than just letting the scene fade out. Produced by David O. Selznick and directed by George Cukor, the cast is a star studded one, the acting is impeccable, and the impact is still there, even after all these years.
The cast reads like a who's who of Hollywood stardom. Billy Burke and Lionel Barrymore are a wealthy couple planning a dinner party. But their fortune is fading and Wallace Beery and his low-class trophy wife Jean Harlow represent the opportunistic newly rich upstarts. The wealthy family's daughter is in love with a has-been actor played by John Barrymore. And Marie Dressler is magnificent as a aging once-beautiful famous actress. They are all getting ready for the dinner, and their intersecting stories are soon to be combined. How it all plays out is as fresh today as it was in 1933.
Yes, there are differences. There was no plastic surgery in those days. With the exception of Jean Harlow, the actors look like regular people, not movie stars, and the older ones have lines in their faces and sagging chins. The doctor smokes cigarettes. Everyone drinks. And the telephone is the most modern technological item. The culture was changing too. We can see that in the way the wealthy Americans are courting English aristocracy even though the depression is invading all of their lives. There is love, death, grief and despair. But there are also some hilariously funny moments. The pace is fast. There is not a dull moment. And then, after all the personalities are developed, the plot is defined and some complex issues reconciled, everyone forces a smile and the dinner is served.
I loved the film. And I was also delighted by the special 47-minute feature made in 1993 about Jean Harlow's life. Narrated by Sharon Stone, the tragic story is fascinating and tragic. I learned a lot as I never knew any of the details of Jean Harlow's life. There is also a short spoof of the film and a very good trailer. All and all, I must say that watching this DVD was a wonderful experience. It was nice spending an evening in 1933. And it was even nicer to know that this is available to everyone on DVD. I highly recommend it.
on November 3, 2005
The black cloud of the Great Depression shadows every scene and every character in DINNER AT EIGHT, George Cukor's brilliant adaptation of the hit Broadway play (it didn't hurt that the play was written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, or screenwrit by Frances Marion and Herman Mankiewicz. This is a smart and slick production.) I write that with a trace of wonderment. I remember the comedy - I saw this movie years ago - but the serious undertones, the prominent minor chords, I didn't remember, and they caught me by surprise.
The comedy is indeed memorable. Jean Harlow, up until then more or less a platinum sexpot in a tight skirt who gave little indication she could act her way out of a paper bag practically steals the movie as the bored and socially ambitious wife of boorish businessman Wallace Beery. As good as Harlow is, Beery matches against her well - have a bickering couple ever been this much fun? - and Marie Dressler, as the rather aged and worse for wear stage actress, is just as good in her scenes. Dressler was cast against type in the sort of role Ava Gardner took after she'd worked her way through an ocean of booze and an arena full of matadors. In Dressler's character's youth her beauty was so overwhelming that foolish young men - the Lionel Barrymore character was such a one - routinely rashly proposed marriage to her. Dressler had a long stage and film career but was no Sarah Bernhardt or Theda Bara, and audiences in 1932 would have known that. What she had was exquisite comic timing and a baedeker of facial expressions.
Cast uncomfortably TO type is John Barrymore as the alcoholic, washed-up actor Larry Renault. Renault receives an invitation for dinner (at eight), and therefore we're allowed to observe him behind closed doors. What we see may make fans of Barrymore squirm a bit. A cad and a drunkard, Renault is also a ham whose looks are going - one character remember him as having a `great profile,' if for no other reason than to drive the verisimilitude nail in a little deeper. In short, he's a ham who finds job offers drying up at an alarming rate. The scenes with the Renault character aren't the most pleasant in the movie, but if you're a fan of John Barrymore you'll find them fascinating, and maybe even a little courageous.
The extras on this disk include a trailer, a Sharon Stone hosted profile on Jean Harlow that satisfied my curiosity about the actress, and the Vitaphone short parody "Come to Dinner." I thought the short was kind of flat. DINNER AT EIGHT is so witty and comedy-filled already that "Come to Dinner" suffers in comparison. It's interesting, and that's about it, although it doesn't detract from my strong recommendation for this disk.
on October 25, 2003
This great MGM classic "Dinner at Eight", would surely have to be one of the best drama/comedy compilations to come out of Hollywood in the 1930's. Always labelled one of the "all star" specials produced by the studio at this time, that is to do this wonderful film an injustice as it contains excellent writing and well crafted performances as well as an excellent cast that performs this witty and at times also tragic story to perfection. And what a cast! It exemplifies MGM at its finest with Lionel and John Barrymore, Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and Billie Burke among many others helping to make "Dinner at Eight" a viewing experience to cherish.
Using the scenerio of an upcoming dinner party the writing team of Herman J. Mankiewicz and Edna Ferber fashioned a unique screenplay from the popular Moss Hart/Edna ferber stage play that tells of the 24 hours in the lives of a small group of individuals who have received an invitation to the dinner in question. Hosted by the fluttery Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke in another of her dippy society matron roles), who has managed to bag English gentry for the swank evening, she experiences all sorts of unforseen complications as the evening approaches. The dinner also sets off all sorts of dilemmas for the invited guests too as we see the final decline of once famous actor Larry Renault (John Barrymore in a brilliant performance) into alcoholic destruction that finds him demoted from the lead in a new play which was to be his great come back, to a walk on part which propels him to suicide. Shipping Magnate Oliver Jordan, Millicent's husband (Lionel Barrymore) comes to terms with his terminal heart troubles with the realisation that his business is also going under. Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler)experiencing money troubles reluctantly excepts the dinner invitation and finds herself caught between Millicent's daughter Paula (Madge Evans) and her secret love for Larry. Dan and Kitty Packard, the feuding, foul mouthed upstart couple have their own reasons for excepting the invitation, Kitty because she wants to rub shoulders with high society uttering the immortal line ,"I want to become a real lady if it kills me!" and Dan wants to go to be able to conclude his business deals and buy up some valuable stock in Oliver's company.
The actual dinner of the title begins as the film concludes but leading up to it we as viewers are treated to some top class acting from this superb ensemble of gifted actors. MGM quoted as having "more stars than there are in heaven" definately proves that here with its top rate cast at their peak. However it is the sure direction of George Cukor and the strong writing that make this a memorable viewing experience and an accurate and at times scathing documenting of depression era values of all classes in society. John Barrymore has rarely been better than as the tragic washed up actor which sadly resembles himself in later life and Jean Harlow really broke through into the upper levels of the MGM hierachy with her playing of the loud, brassy strumpet climbing the society ladder. As with the earlier all star effort "Grand Hotel", no expense was spared here from Cedric Gibbons beautiful interiors ranging from over the top for Jean Harlow's garish bedroom to sedately tasteful for the Jordan residence. Adrian's sublime designs for the women were some of his most famous ever with Jean Harlow's clothes in particular going down into 1930's film costume folklore.
I find "Dinner at Eight", to be by far the best of the multi plot all star stories produced during the 1930's and it constantly amazes me at the sheer star power the major studios and MGM in particular had at their disposal in the golden era. To see such stars of the 1930's as Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler, who were both to pass away before too many years had gone by is a rare treat for film buffs nowadays. This film really is what classic Hollywood is all about and even with the passing of time it is still as witty and relevant in it's character studies as it was in 1934. Dont miss this dinner party under any circumstances!
on March 21, 2005
"Dinner at Eight" is an essential film just for the gathering of early screen legends on display here. The bonus is that they are in top form. If the film has a flaw it's that it may suffer a bit from staginess, but that is inherent in alot of films from this era. However, that is compensated by the richness of the writing and performances. The narrative of the film is really about the activities of the persons invited to the climactic dinner party;the dinner itself is merely an afterthought. The performance I found most affecting was John Barrymore as a washed-up actor. He is matched by his brother, Lionel, as a kind-hearted shipping magnate who is facing the collapse of his business. Wallace Beery and the legendary Jean Harlow are hilarious as the bickering nouveau riche couple. Marie Dressler lights up the screen as the straight-talking grande dame. Billie Burke has her moments as the harried party hostess. Warner Brothers should be applauded for releasing this gem so that future generations can appreciate the craftmanship of early cinema.