Saturday, March 22, 2014

DINNER AT EIGHT | 1933 | Laughing with, at and through losing.

DINNER AT EIGHT is on AFI's 100 Laughs List

Let's review the cast of characters:

There's the sweet Oliver Jordan, who runs a business that's been in the family for generations, and is now failing.

There's Carlotta Vance, an aging actress with financial woes, who sells some stock and inadvertently helps to make her dear friend Oliver Jordan officially poor.

There's Larry Renault, an aging actor with ego and alcohol problems, both things that probably served him well in younger days (or were at least more forgivable), who chooses suicide over being thrown out on the street.

Larry leaves behind a young lover, Paula Jordan (yes, Oliver's daughter) who is also engaged to a solidly nice and much more age-appropriate guy (Ernest DeGraff).  When Paula learns Larry has taken his own life, she wants to go to him but is coached to stand-by her fiance and never say a word about Larry ever again.  Wisely she chooses the man who is alive, but starting out with such a large secret in the foundation to their union, what chance to they really have?

And then there's Dan and Kitty Packard, the classless and clueless social climbers who are fully awful and sure to reproduce.

Laugh riot, AFI.  

In this movie, as in life, a certain type of person thrives and survives, but what they're fittest at concerns me.

My hero in this film isn't one of the sure-to-survive, but I really want things go well for Oliver's wife Millicent after the credits role.

Through a majority of the picture Millicent is actively unaware of Oliver's struggles, dismissing any hints of distress that he lets slip.  She makes herself crazed in her single-minded pursuit of pulling off a dinner party that will impress Lord and Lady Ferncliffe. But when she learns Oliver is ill and the business is done, she immediately shifts her focus to Oliver and her family.  After a few understandable tears, she is instantly resilient and resourceful.

It seems she was the very best manager of the upper-crust Jordan household, and so she'll be the very best at scaling back, and the very best at whatever is required of her future life roles.  Her adaptability is the only genuinely bright spot in the film.  Bright, but not funny.  Very rough times may be ahead of the aging Jordan's, but they have each other and that seems to be something.

Millicent is my hero in this film, definitely.  However, my favorite character is Ed.  His wife is related to Millicent.  When the Lord and Lady Ferncliffe cancel at the last moment, Ed and wife are invited as seat-fillers at dinner, brought in to help keep the quorum so to speak.  Ed would rather be at the movies, and isn't shy about saying so.

So, in summary, I may have to disagree with AFI.  DINNER AT EIGHT is funny, but I have a hard time calling it a comedy because it always leaves me feeling very serious and little bit sad.

Released: 2013
Director: Dan Mazer
Leads:  Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Billie Burke
Writer:  Frances Marion, Herman J. Mankiewicz
Genre: IDK
Plot review and other information about DINNER AT EIGHT @ Wikipedia