Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Dinner at Eight (1933) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

MGM's all-star comedy-drama DINNER AT EIGHT (1933) was recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

Given the cast, it's almost hard for me to believe I'd never seen it before. I'm glad to have finally watched and enjoyed it.

DINNER AT EIGHT was written by Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz, based on a Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Donald Ogden Stewart also contributed to the screenplay.

Mrs. Oliver Jordan (Billie Burke) is planning a dinner party for members of the British nobility who are shortly to arrive in New York. Unknown to Mrs. Jordan, her husband (Lionel Barrymore) is suffering from significant business setbacks and health issues; meanwhile her daughter Paula (Madge Evans) is considering dumping her fiance (Phillips Holmes) for a much older, alcoholic, has-been actor, Larry Renault (John Barrymore).

As Mrs. Jordan organizes her guest list, we're gradually introduced to the other guests, including actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), who was once Oliver's lover and who has fallen on difficult times financially; rough-edged business tycoon Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) and his wife Kitty (Jean Harlow); Kitty's lover, Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe), and his wife Lucy (Karen Morley); and Mrs. Jordan's no-nonsense cousin Hattie (Louise Closser Hale) and her husband Ed (Grant Mitchell).

Rounding out the cast are Lee Tracy as Larry's agent and May Robson as Mrs. Jordan's cook.

The film has some marvelous comedic moments, mostly thanks to Harlow, Dressler, and Burke, but first and foremost it's a high-class melodrama. All of the characters are suffering in some way, to a greater or lesser degree; a couple of characters are close to death, some are broke, and some have unhappy relationships. And in the case of Cousin Ed, he's simply unhappy being forced into the role of last-minute dinner guest!

The film is stagey at times, with characters tending to lapse into theatrical "look at me acting" monologues, and that's when the film is at its weakest. Despite those moments where we're all too aware we're watching actors playing parts, for most of the film the cast transcends those too-obvious scenes thanks to their sheer talent and star power. It's quite a treat to see so many marvelous performers gathered in the same cast.

Dressler may have been the least of the cast in terms of looks, but her performance towers over those of her impressive colleagues. Carlotta seems to be entangled with every character, one way or another, but Dressler makes it work; Carlotta is both flamboyantly theatrical and very grounded in reality. She can also turn on a dime from compassionately giving someone very bad news to reeling off some of the funniest looks and lines in the movie.

I believe this is the first film I've seen Dressler in, and I'll be looking for more of her films in the future. What a shame she appeared in only one more film before her passing in 1934 at the age of 65.

I also especially appreciated Burke, playing her trademark ditzy wealthy matron role to good effect, especially in a scene where she learns the chauffeur has stabbed the butler, and...even worse!...the aspic she was so anticipating serving for dinner has tumbled to the floor during the melee.

That said, Burke has a very nice character arc which sees her crashing back to reality before movie's end, in moving fashion. Her reaction to learning of her husband's troubles is one of the finest and sweetest in the movie.

George Cukor directed this 111-minute film, which was produced by David O. Selznick. It was filmed by William H. Daniels. The gowns were designed by the great Adrian. MGM glamour at its finest!

The Warner Archive Blu-ray print and sound quality are both excellent, as viewers have consistently enjoyed from this line. This is a lovely presentation of an enjoyable film of historical significance, given the number of major stars of the era sharing the screen.

Disc extras consist of the trailer; the 47-minute documentary HARLOW: THE BLONDE BOMBSHELL (1993); and the short COME TO DINNER (1934).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger barrylane said...

Edmund Lowe is a name I look for in anything and have seen this at a revival house in the 1970's, a Blu ray seems appealing.

3:43 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

I loved Harlow in this movie. OK, I love Harlow in all her movies but she's particularly good in this one.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, I've really come to appreciate Lowe, especially in films such as SEVEN SINNERS and BLACK SHEEP. He admittedly doesn't have enough to do in this, given how many actors/characters there were to fit in, but it's good to see him.

As a side note, I have a 1989 TV production I received as a gift some years ago, but I've never cracked it open. Like the 1933 film, it was released by the Warner Archive.

Harlow is quite funny, DforDoom. There's not much depth to her part but she has some great moments, including the ending.

Best wishes,

3:07 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've just run this and accept every moment of sweetness and insight. Next week, the Lauren Bacall variation.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...


Best wishes,

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

I've just run the 1989 variation, and in every aspect the original outshone it, which does not mean the players were inadequate, they were, but Billie Burke was definitive, as was John Barrymore, Edmund Lowe, and especially Jean Harlow, but they were not alone. Television taste and modernization should never be allowed to exist. A shame, because the players worked well and hard, but to little avail.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the original vs. the remake, Barry Lane. It really is hard to beat the original cast, but I'll probably give the TV version a try sometime simply out of curiosity!

Best wishes,

9:21 AM  

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