Movie of the Day

Dinner At Eight

After seeing Jean Harlow in a role that was all too small in The Public Enemy, I wanted to see more of her as soon as possible.

Harlow is great as the whining, spoiled wife of a brash, power-mad businessman (Wallace Beery). “Doctor Talbot says yer a extravurt an I’m a intravurt, and intravurt you dummy, and that’s why I gots to have time to reflect in,” she coos to her husband an a grating nasal voice, explaining why she has to spend so much time with the doctor she is carrying on with.

In this adaptation of a George S. Kaufman play, Kitty Packard (Harlow) is social climbing schemer who is just sure her invitation to the titular party by society matron, Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke), which a Lord and Lady Ferncliffe are attending, will finally give her some status. Her husband pins his hopes on closing an important business deal with the host.  Meanwhile Millicent’s husband Oliver (Lionel Barrymore) learns his once thriving shipping business has been hit hard by the depression and is near collapse. John Barrymore, in a role that was not too far from his real life at the time, plays a washed-up former silent film actor with a drinking problem who doesn’t know he has been invited to the party simply to fill an empty seat.

Everyone pretends they have power, money and status that they do not, and hope to be able to get power, money and status from the other attendees, who also putting up a front. As the actual dinner time approaches, the secrets they are hiding become more and more tragic. Although Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow add comic relief whenever they are they are verbally tearing into each other on the screen, this could hardly be called a comedy. As a very dark satire of the effects of the Great Depression on social class, it is films belonging more to George S. Kaufman, who wrote the play, than to George Cukor who directed the film. Cukor directed many of the films I most enjoyed this year, the first year of this blog, but this one failed to engage me.

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