Dinner at Eight (1933)

Eighty-seven years ago today, the film Dinner at Eight premiered. It is hilarious, you have to see this movie.


Title: Dinner at Eight
Directed by: George Cukor
Produced by: David O. Selznick
Screenplay by: Frances Marion, Herman J. Mankiewicz; Additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart
Based on: Dinner at Eight 1932 play by George S. Kaufman, Edna Ferber
Starring: Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Billie Burke
Music by: William Axt
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Edited by: Ben Lewis
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: August 29, 1933
Running time: 113 minutes, 111 min (Turner library print)
Budget: $435,000
Box office: $2,156,000

New York society matron Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) receives word that Lord and Lady Ferncliffe have accepted her invitation to dinner. She is overjoyed by this social coup, but her husband Oliver (Lionel Barrymore), a shipping magnate, finds Ferncliffe boring. Their daughter, Paula (Madge Evans) is preoccupied with the impending return of her fiancé, Ernest DeGraff (Phillips Holmes), from Europe.

Oliver asks Millicent to invite legendary stage actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), who has just arrived from Europe. Carlotta comes to his office, and they reminisce: Oliver asked her to marry him the day he turned 21 (She is older.) When she refused, he turned to work. In her heyday, Carlotta’s lovers showered her with stock and gems. The Jordan stock was the only one she paid for herself. Now she must sell, but Oliver lacks the funds. His business has been struck hard by the Depression. Magnate Dan Packard (Wallace Beery), a former miner, agrees to consider helping Oliver, but later brags to his wife, Kitty (Jean Harlow), that he plans to take over Jordan Shipping.

Oliver convinces Millicent to invite the Packards. Kitty, who is young, beautiful, ill-mannered, and socially ambitious, eagerly accepts. Dan refuses to go but changes his mind when he finds out that Lord Ferncliffe, “the richest man in England,” will attend.

On the morning of her dinner, Millicent loses her extra man. She telephones Larry Renault (John Barrymore), a former silent screen star recently profiled in the newspaper, and extends a last-minute invitation, unaware that Paula is in his room.

Paula adores Larry and cannot imagine life with Ernest now. Their affair has lasted almost a month. He wants to break it off. He is 47, Paula 19. He abandoned his first wife; the second, drunk, drove her car over a cliff; he is still married to the third, now a great star. There have been countless affairs. He is burned out. “This is the first decent thing I have done in my life,” he says. Paula refuses to listen, declaring that she will tell her family tonight. Carlotta sees Paula leaving Larry’s room.

A hardened alcoholic, Larry is on the brink of collapse. His agent, Max Kane (Lee Tracy), tells him that the stage play he was counting on has a new producer, Jo Stengel (Jean Hersholt). Stengel has put another actor in the lead but is willing to consider Larry in a character part.

The Jordans’ physician and friend Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) has been carrying on with Kitty while pretending to tend to her feigned illnesses. On the day of the dinner, his wife, Lucy (Karen Morley), discovers him in a compromising telephone call with Kitty. Lucy still loves him, and he wants to change. They kiss, and Oliver is rushed into the office. Amyl nitrite restores him, but Oliver wisely deduces the seriousness of his illness. Talbot tells his nurse the diagnosis: thrombosis of the coronary artery. Oliver has a few years—or a few days. At home, Oliver tells Millicent that he feels rotten and needs to rest, but she is too hysterical to hear because, among several disasters, the Ferncliffes have canceled.

Meanwhile, Kitty and Dan have a vicious fight. Threatened with divorce, she tells him to choose between his Cabinet appointment and a career-stopping revelation from her about his crooked dealings. He must save the Jordan line—and treat her with more respect. She wins this round because Dan doesn’t know the name of her lover. Her maid, Tina (Hilda Vaughan), who does, proceeds to blackmail her.

When Max returns. Larry alienates Stengel, who leaves. Max chastises Larry with the truth and leaves; the hotel manager tells Larry to leave tomorrow. Larry turns on his gas fireplace, reclines to show off his famous profile, and waits to die.

The dinner guests arrive at the Jordans’. Carlotta tells Paula about Larry and comforts the weeping girl. Oliver has an attack. Millicent learns about his illness and the business. First, she weeps, then she springs into action, planning their future. Downstairs, Kitty forces Dan to tell Oliver that he has saved the Jordan line.

Going into dinner, Kitty remarks, “ I was reading a book the other day”, and Carlotta does a superb double-take. The book said that machinery is going to take the place of every profession. Carlotta scans Kitty from head to toe and takes her arm: “Oh my dear, that’s something you never need to worry about.”

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