Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dinner at Eight (1933)

Wait a minute, haven't I seen this movie before?

Well, not quite. But Dinner at Eight (1933) could remind viewers of Grand Hotel in several ways.

First off, several actors from Grand Hotel are back for Dinner at Eight. John Barrymore's Larry Renault is a washed-up actor who hasn't succeeded making the transition from silent films to the talkies. His best asset, his looks, is on the downside.

In Grand Hotel, Barrymore was The Baron, a thief posing as a supposedly suave aristocrat to pinch Marlene Dietrich's pearls. Oh, he also needed money badly or risked being roughed up, if not killed, by his criminal colleagues.

Lionel Barrymore was Kringelein in Grand Hotel, a bookkeeper for a big businessman who is dying and wants to live out his last days blowing his estate in fine living. Here, he's Oliver Jordan, an owner of a shipping business who finds tough times running his empire during the Great Depression. Plus, someone is buying up his company's stock with the goal of pushing him out as owner. It doesn't help that out flame Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler) wants to sell her shares in Jordan's company because she's starting to be squeezed for cash.

That brings us to Wallace Beery. He was Preysing in Grand Hotel, the businessman desperate to make a deal while finding time for some monkey business with Joan Crawford's stenographer. In Dinner at Eight, his character Dan Packard is a businessman eager to clinch deals and make connections in Washington. He's married a fine-looking, but tough talking, piece of eye candy in Kitty (Jean Harlow). She wants to play doctor with physician Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe).

So, three of Grand Hotel's principal cast are back for Dinner at Eight.

Well, how about the plot?

Grand Hotel was pretty much set at a swank German hotel.

Here, all the action is tied to a dinner party Jordan's wife Millicent (Billie Burke) wants to host to welcome a couple from England's high society.

Dinner at Eight runs nearly two hours, but all its attention centres on preparations leading up to the bash.

What can give viewers some indigestion is trying to figure out what type of movie Dinner at Eight is supposed to be. Its mood varies widely depending on the subplot. Larry Renault keeps pounding back booze with the knowledge the good times are long gone. No laughs there. The Packards start off looking like a couple fighting for laughs, but the unhappiness in their relationship gets fleshed out as the movie continues. This marriage is in rough shape. Even the maid sees a chance to cash in on their discord.

Millicent's efforts to organize her party are on the light side. There's problems in the kitchen. Her servants are at each other's throats. Meanwhile, hubby Oliver is dealing with a serious illness that could drop his anchor for good.

Karen Morley appears briefly as Talbot's wife, Lucy. She knows all about his dalliances with patients, but continues to stand by him. Again, the heaviness of wife confronting husband seems strange in a film that includes pratfalls on stairs.

Watch for some fine support work from Louise Closser Hale and Grant Mitchell. They're relatives of Millicent's who are pressed into service when some dinner party invitees can't attend. Mitchell's Ed Loomis wold rather be at the movies watching a Great Garbo film. There's another tie to Grand Hotel.

Great cast. Interesting storylines. But audiences might be confused about what type of movie they're watching. Comedy? Drama? Melodrama?

RATING: 8/10

MORBID AND FUN FACTS: Director George Cukor also helmed the very fine The Philadelphia Story .

Marie Dressler died in 1934. She was 65. Louise Closser Hale would only earn one more credit, Duck Soup , before her death in 1933 at age 60.

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