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4.7 out of 5 stars29
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 12 January 2009
In the 30's Hollywood adapted many film comedies of manners from hit Broadway plays. Some like the Barrymore vehicle "Twentieth Century" seem stage-bound and are terribly overacted as if played in Madison Square Gardens. But this version of the George Kaufman/ Edna Ferber stage play pulls it off totally. John Barrymore takes his role as a washed-up matinee idol more seriously in this than in many of the films in which his art imitated, then parodied, his own downhill trajectory. As a result he is subtle and touching here, even as he is courting a girl young enough to be his daughter, and you can see from this performance why he had once been the most famous leading man of his generation. The other leading roles- and if ever there was a balanced ensemble cast in the movies, this is it- are taken by players who, each in their own way, show themselves to be masters of character acting. Marie Dressler, one of the greatest character players in the movies, is funny and magnificent, a warship in full sail. Lionel Barrymore, the businessman whose own shipping line is- well, sinking- is at the end of his tether with business worries, and consequent failing health, but maintains throughout an air of gentle decency and good manners. The background to this comedy drama is the Depression, and in spite of the lavish settings and magnificent costumes, we seem never far away from personal or romantic disaster. Love, romance, marriage, sex and high finance are woven into a carefully controlled narrative perfectly brought to the screen by George Cukor and his screenplay adapters. The dreadful marriage between the loud, rude, bullying nouveau riche tycoon played by Wallace Beery and his trashy, wheedling, spectacularly underdressed younger wife, Jean Harlow, shows another side of 1930's high society. Marie Dressler performs what has to be the finest double-take in the movies, in reaction to strident Jean Harlow's conversational gambit " I read a book the other day..." I won't spoil it by quoting further, but this exchange leads to what must rank as among the best last exchanges in cinema- up there with the ending of Some Like it Hot. Like all the best comedy, Dinner at Eight has a serious edge to it, more than a touch of darkness. One of the films to see before you die- or go bankrupt.
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on 29 March 2013
I very much enjoyed 'Dinner At Eight' which is surely just as much fun now as it was way back in 1933! The dinner happens right at the end and we get to see none of it. What we do see are the events leading up to it from the points of view of both the hosts and the guests. Most the humour still works wonderfully well - what a very good script this is! I have to say that I think pretty much everyone is excellent but if I have to pick favourites...

Surely Marie Dressler steals the show as Carlotta with her expressive features and excellent comic timing - she has so many great lines, including the famous exchange with Jean Harlow at the end of the movie but also a very good serious scene with Madge Evans' Paula which shows that she's not all about laughs! Next, Billie Burke whom I had only known as Glinda in 'The Wizard Of Oz'. Here, she sounds much the same and looks much the same but shows herself to be an excellent comedy actress. She delivers her lines outstandingly well and is the very model of someone crumbling under a bright and brittle exterior as her dinner party collapses on top of her. Her 'distress' scene with her husband and daughter on the evening of the party is just superb. But despite all this, she still manages to be wonderfully sympathetic when she finds out about her husband's many problems. I also very much enjoyed Jean Harlow in what I understand was a fairly typical role for her at this stage in her career - the tart with a heart and a neat sense of humour but even her character has a couple of good serious moments, like the darkly shaded blackmail scene with the maid.

I watched 'Grand Hotel' shortly before this movie and the two share a few stars, all of whom I much preferred this time around. I still can't really take to John Barrymore as romantic male lead and once again he is paired with a much younger love interest which makes the whole thing slightly creepy BUT his Renault character becomes more believable because he is played as an ageing idol and does it well. His disintegration is the real serious thread running through an otherwise light movie and while he plays it very well, like the darkness in 'Grand Hotel', I found his fate just a little jarring and perhaps unnecessary in what is essentially a comedy. Lionel Barrymore is very likeable as Oliver Jordan though I feared for his fate as well as the movie progressed! Finally Wallace Beery plays another arrogant oaf but slightly more likeable than Preissler in 'Grand Hotel'. Most of the smaller roles are also very well done with special mention to Louise Closser Hale as Hattie, another fine comic turn.

The Great Depression stalks through the entire movie and whilst largely played for laughs, the serious elements are generally also well handled; Carlotta's money worries and nostalgia for her youth, Oliver's business and health worries, the marital problems of the doctor and his wife (she is remarkably understanding of what seems to be an astonishingly early case of sex addiction) and, of course, the trials of John Barrymore's character. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed 'Dinner At Eight' and look forward to watching it again soon.
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on 5 September 2007
This movie was adapted from the work of George Kaufman and Edna Ferber by Frances Marion and Herman Mankiewicz, casting some of the best names in Hollywood. Brilliantly directed by George Cukor, the story is a character study of four individuals during depression era (1933), affected by love, greed, possible poverty, and infidelity. John Barrymore offers one of his finest performances as a down and out actor, Larry Renault, caught up with drinking, and in desperation commits suicide as he has no other way to go in a world that doesn't accept losers. Lionel Barrymore offers another great performance as Oliver Jordan, a shipping magnate and the CEO of a company, which is in financial ruins, and it is close to collapse unless a financier helps to save the company. Burdened with his heart problems, and his scatterbrained high-society wife, Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) preoccupied with hosting a dinner party for rich and famous, and his only daughter in love with much older Larry Renault, is confronted with the realities of the Great Depression. Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) plays a devious and crooked financier who plots to gain from Oliver Jordan's company, and his unfaithful wife, Kitty Packard (Jean Harlow) who threatens him to do a good deed by spilling beans about his dirty scheme to Oliver Jordan, when Dan likes to file for divorce because of her infidelity. Marie Dressler as an aging star, Carlotta Vance is very entertaining; in spite of her own insecurities, she offers her wisdom to Paula Jordan (Madge Evans), when she gives her the news that her lover, Larry Renault committed suicide, and to Kitty Packard in the film's final scene.

If you are a fan of Jean Harlow, don't expect much from this movie. With regards to the fans of John Barrymore, it is ironic that his final years in real life was somewhat similar to the character of Larry Renault as his addiction to alcohol and possibly Alzheimer's disease had significant impact on his movie career.
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on 16 March 2011
As a follow up to the 'all star' Grand Hotel this is the film that cemented MGM's claim to have 'more stars than there are in heaven'. With a perfect cast directed by George Cukor, a screenplay by Marion & Mankiewicz from a play by Kaufman & Ferber and produced by David O Selznick how could this be anything but the smash hit that it was? To be sure some of the production values are now dated but what else can you expect from a film that is almost ninety years old? One thing though that this film amply illustrates is the excellence of the old Hollywood studio system whereby a studio had under contract the right actor for the right part. For me one of the many highlights of this film is the performance by the incomparable Marie Dressler, (a name that will mean little to today's CGI generation but she was Hollywood's top box office star for three years until her untimely death), as the 'over the hill' actress Carlotta Vance. To every aspiring Thespian out there this should be obligatory viewing in, 'how to steal a scene' la Dressler knew every trick in the book! The final scene of the wonderful Jean Harlow & MD finally going into dinner together amply illustrates this. So for all you film buffs who look back nostalgically to the 'golden years' of Hollywood this film is a must; five stars and more in every sense. Incidentally Marie Dressler has an excellent site on You Tube with videos of some of her performances not yet released on DVD.
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on 13 July 2013
Old this may be but its witty, intelligent with a hint of pathos as well.
This is really worthy of the label "classic".Ok some of the acting verges on "hammy" at times but its more than redeemed by the marvellous Ms Dressler plus Harlow gives as good as she takes in this. The other rest of the actors are fine too but its really these two that stand out to this viewer ,oh yes ,and the actress who plays Ms Harlows slightly slovenly maid.Excellent and a good print.
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on 1 December 2011
this is a highly entertaining "social" comedy/drama with marvellous performances from john barrymore, marie dressler, jean harlow and wallace beery in particular.
at the time of shooting, marie dressler was not a well woman and her days were numbered, sadly. according to some sources, "M.G.M" mogul louis b. mayer refused dressler time off so that she could receive medical attention! even so, she is never less than professional.
most of the wit and humour comes from jean harlow, marie dressler and also from billie burke as the slightly stressed and snooty hostess of the dinner party. her husband played by lionel barrymore, portrays the over-worked and terminally ill businessman who is swindled by crook wallace beery. his performance is good, especially at the beginning but he seems to be all but written out before the end. a shame as he isn't quite as over-the-top as in some of his other performances.
his scene with marie dressler is one of the highlights of the production.
my favourite performance however, is that of john barrymore. he only has two scenes but regardless, these are fairly long scenes that take place in one film set which for me, is even better. he makes the most of them and his actual screentime is approximately 32 minutes. it seems a bit sad that by this time in his life and career, barrymore's drinking issue was starting to take the effect that it did by the early 1930s, with hollywood producers becoming somewhat reluctant to employ him. unfortunately, this is his character down to a tee in "dinner at eight" as he plays an actor of the stage and screen called larry renault, who loses his last chance to secure any type of acting work after insulting a prominent theatre producer whilst in a drunken stupor. his scenes represent the drama of the film, not to mention the fact that his character is the most interesting and the most detailed. as the old saying goes, life can imitate art. the dialogue in barrymore's scenes is some of the best that's written and it's interesting to note that none of the other cast members appear in his two scenes, apart from a largely forgotten actor called lee tracy, who plays the faded renault's agent.
the ending is interesting as one wonders what will become of all the guests during and after the evening is over.......
a very good film that hasn't lost its roots in the theatre, being a successful stage play originally. well recommended.
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on 16 August 2010
Great picture with so many great stars Billie Burke and both Barrymores and Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow. A real treat. There are hysterically funny moments - Marie Dressler's entrance dragging her fur..but quite a bit of darkness as well. John Barrymore's character mirrors some of the same devils that plagued the actor. Not perfect but surprisingly multi-dimensional given the norms of the time.
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on 29 September 2014
This a fantastic film with an all star cast, but it makes no sense to buy this version when you can get the same film with all the extras (Harlow: The Blonde Bombshell 46:59, Come to Dinner: A Satire 22:11, Theatrical Trailer 3:02) as part of the TCM Greatest Classic Films: Legends - Jean Harlow 4 film set, along with Libeled Lady 1936 (with William Powell, Myrna Loy & Spencer Tracy), China Seas 1935 (with Clark Gable), and Wife vs. Secretary 1936 (with Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and James Stewart). The DVDs are region 1,2,3,4 so should play fine on UK DVD players.
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on 3 March 2013
A glittering gem from Hollywood's Golden Era when MGM was the home of glamour. Like so many of the great films from this period it had already been a successful stage show that was brilliantly transferred to the screen by a gifted director [See another similar Cukor classic, `The Women'].

Cukor's delightful and witty piece is pure brilliance. A wonderful cast of superb performers including brothers Lionel and John Barrymore, the latter poignantly playing a caricatured version of himself, not to mention the great Marie Dressler who had only recently been 're-discovered' after living in near poverty, and who would die tragically of cancer a year after the film opened. Billy Burke is the quintessential dizzy Park Lane hostess Millicent Jordan and finally, of course we have the wonderful Jean Harlow at her sassy best as she spars with boorish, ex-miner turned millionaire, husband Wallace Beery.

Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz' sparkling dialogue glitters like cut crystal right throughout the drama - even the cook with her lion in aspic has some hilarious lines and alongside 'Some Like It Hot' this film probably has the greatest closing lines of any movie!

Sit down, unfold your napkin, and enjoy a wonderful `Dinner At Eight'.
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on 22 November 2007
i'm so totally in love with this film its unimaginable, it contains everything i could want in a classic film, wit, class, sophisication, beautiful gowns, dinner parties.... i could go on and on, the collection of characters is just perfect and they each compliment each other with a grace and charm that you will never see these days. it is in effect, a perfect 30's movie:)
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