Friday, June 26, 2009

Dinner at Eight (1933)

An All-Star cast save this film which felt like only half of a movie.

Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) is hosting a dinner party as part of a social coup, she has secured a wealthy British couple as her guests of honor. The film basically follows the story of her guests as they prepare for the big event. Some of the guests include Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), a washed up actress who is the former lover of Millicent's husband Oliver (Lionel Barrymore), Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) who is a mining tycoon who is planning on using dirty business dealings to take over Oliver's shipping company, there is also Kitty (Jean Harlow), Dan's brassy wife who is carrying on an affair with another dinner guest, Dr. Wayne Talbot. There is also Larry Renault (John Barrymore), another washed up actor who is having an affair with Millicent's engaged daughter.

The main problem with the film is that it focuses on all of the tangled relationships of the guests, but the film actually only shows the dinner party for about 10 minutes at the end. It feels like all build-up with no payoff, because we have people who are having affairs who are going to be attending with their spouses, but it doesn't really amount to anything.

Luckily, the cast is uniformly excellent, with Jean Harlow stealing the show as the brash and spoiled Kitty, but Billie Burke is also great as a woman obsessed with planning her dinner party, only for it to slowly fall apart around her. John Barrymore also deserves from credit for the most dramatic role in this comedy as a man who slowly begins to realize that he is not as important or talented as he thought he once was.

I don't know if it's actually the fault of the film or my own expectations that led to my main issue with this movie. If I hadn't expected the film to primarily focus on a disasterous dinner party (which most summaries will say about the film), I probably would have enjoyed it more than I do, but I was just anticipating all of these characters finally coming together and watching the sparks fly. But if you walk into the film without any such expectations then that in combination with the stellar cast make this a fun little film worth watching.

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