Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

This film is a feast for movie-goers.

The Man Who Came to Dinner serves up a great script from twin brothers Julius Epstein and Philip Epstein (Casablanca, Arsenic and Old Lace) based on a smash Broadway show of the same name.

Director William Keighley (The Fighting 69th, The Adventures of Robin Hood) assembles a delicious cast with Monty Woolley carving out a standout performance as self-centred, caustic author and critic Sheridan Whiteside.

After a fall, the man praised as "the first man of American letters" takes over the house of industrialist Ernest Stanley (Grant Mitchell) and his wife (Billie Burke) and relegates the couple upstairs. Whiteside starts scheming when he learns his secretary Maggie Cutler (Bette Davis) has fallen for a reporter, Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis), from the midwestern town where he was supposed to speak. "I'll pull you out of this stardust," he vows. But Cutler is ready to settle down.

He recruits bombshell actress Lorraine Sheldon (Ann Sheridan) to take the train from sunny Palm Beach to spend Christmas pulling Jefferson away from Cutler. Sheridan's right-hand woman turns to Beverly Carlton (Reginald Gardner) to pull Sheldon off the hunt.

Meanwhile, the Stanleys home is filling up with Christmas gifts from Whiteside's admirers. They include an octopus and four penguins. Whiteside doles out life advice to the couple's two children (Elisabeth Fraser, Russell Arms) that quickly has them packing their bags and leaving home with great enthusiasm.

Woolley is a joy to watch in this film. His barbs and disdainful reproaches towards just about every single person he meets are very funny. George Barbier, making one of his last screen appearances before his death in 1945, shines as Dr. Bradley, a family physician who's terribly keen to have Whiteside read his memoirs about being a small-town doctor.

Jimmy Durante's appearance as Banjo, an old friend of Whiteside's, is a bit much. He's over the top in a film that does quite well handling all kinds of craziness in a low-key way.

Movie fans often hear the phrase, "They don't make 'em like they used to." Darn right. The Man Who Came to Dinner is perfect proof.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Billie Burke appeared as Glinda in The Wizard of Oz.

Reginald Gardiner's last credit was as a butler in an episode of The Monkees.

The Man Who Came to Dinner was a career highlight for both Richard Travis (Missile of the Moon, Mesa of Lost Women) and Richard Arms. The latter actor died in 2012 at age 92.

Jimmy Durante narrated the 1970 Christmas special, Frosty the Snowman. He sang the title tune too.

Mary Wickes, along with Monty Woolley, appeared in the show's Broadway production. Contemporary audiences saw her in Sister Act and its sequel in the early 1990s.

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