Man Who Came To Dinner, The
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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.
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Where to start? Once upon a time in New York between the world wars there was an eating drinking gambling association of leading talents in New York. Members were expected to be big eater, able to hold their booze, sharp tongued and talented. Mostly they were writers, but they attracted actors and editors and they met every day at a round table in the Algonquin Hotel.
A founding member of the Algonquin Round table was Alexander Woolcott. He was a large man who would prove himself the master of several art forms. He had been one of the most influential Broadway theater critics, He was one of the first national radio personalities. He had volunteered as a private soldier in World War I and would be among the founders of Stars and Stripes. He also had some modest success as a stage actor.
Wolcott could be prissy, presumptuous, and bossy and someone you wanted in your corner. If he could be a pain, he was certainly much befriended and gave of much himself to his friends. The story is that he was the guest of friends the comedy writing team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Having worn out his welcome the two were inspired to convert their experiences into a play about hosting an oversized character while admitting he also had an oversized heart. The play was a major success, big enough to support several road shows, one of which would include Wolcott playing himself under the name of Sheridan Whiteside.
Reports are that Wolcott was fairly good at playing himself. For the movie version we get Monty Woolley, a man with more than sufficient regal bluff who delivers the comedy. This would be his breakthrough role.
The Man who came to Dinner is almost top of the line farce. At its most mantic, there are several jokes being balanced and tossed about. A middle class family has its plain domestic existence bent to the service of a hugely egotistical radio commentator Sheridan Whiteside. There is a steady stream of famous names coming in and out, deliveries at all hours, criminals and Asian diplomats arriving for dinner and in a tradition later adopted by the Muppets, there are penguins.
Several plots revolve around the over worked under appreciated Secretary, Bette Davis(grace Blair) in a rare and well done role at one comedic and second banana. Two things not usually associated with her. Cameo roles include Jimmy Durante as Banjo, a role meant to be either Groucho or Harpo Marx ( or both, both were regulars at the Algonquin) and Ann Sheriden as Lorraine Sheldon a scheming actress most likely meant as a friendly dig at Gertrude Lawrence.
As was certain in these comedians all ends well, well mostly , good is rewarded, mostly and when in doubt there are the penguins and a running gag about getting a call through to Eleanor Roosevelt and the kids of the house and the nurse and ..... Relax have fun and if it is fun for you, go and look up which roles are supposed to be which actors.
It is fun to watch around Christmas time, when your tree is up, packages under, and drinking a hot cup of tea or coffee in your comfy chair - this show kind of comes to fruition during the Christmas holiday (in the movie). Watch the outrageous packages that arrive for the old crank, listen as the help announces who they are from (all the current (1940s) actors/actresses/dignitaries of the day). You give a sigh of relief at the end, when he is finally leaving........WHOOPS!!!!
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