Dinner at Eight
is a 1933 film directed by George Cukor
and featuring an All-Star Cast
. The movie features a half-dozen plotlines concering the various members of the New York elite that have been invited to a society dinner.
Dinner at Eight
- Oliver and Millicent Jordan (Lionel Barrymore and Billie Burke). Millicent is the one engaged in the Serious Business of planning and hosting the dinner at her house. She hasn't had time to notice that her husband Oliver is both seriously ill and in severe financial trouble; his shipping business (the Jordan Lines) is on the verge of collapse. Their daughter Paula has a fiance who is just back from Europe, but in the meantime she has been having an affair with...
- Larry Renault (John Barrymore), an actor who was a huge star in the silent film era but whose career is now in the dumper. Larry is trying to keep up appearances, but he is both completely broke and severely alcoholic. Larry is living in a hotel suite (that he can't pay for anymore) across the hall from...
- Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), a "battleship" of a woman who in her youth was a famous stage actress that attracted all the men in the New York uppercrust. Oliver was one of her suitors. She too is in poor financial straits and is looking to sell off her stock in Jordan's shipping company. One of the people interested in buying is...
- Dan Packard (Wallace Beery), an unethical businessman who is plotting a hostile takeover of Jordan Lines. He is married to Kitty Packard (Jean Harlow), a selfish gold digger who is carrying out, right under Dan's nose, an affair with...
- Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe), whose clientele includes a lot of New York society. Another one of his patients is...
- Oliver Jordan, whose heart ailment is very serious.
is a mix of drama, comedy of manners, and farce. It was adapted from a stage play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber.
There was a made-for-TV movie remake in the 1980s that updated some of the cultural references (Larry Renault was addicted to cocaine rather than an alcoholic, for example, and Oliver Jordan had cancer. Kitty refers to 'computers' doing all the work. Etc.)
- Actor Allusion: Lots of comments about Renault being "The Great Profile" and having been a huge star in the silent movie days. John Barrymore was a silent-movie heartthrob who was in fact called "The Great Profile". This became Harsher in Hindsight within a few years, when Barrymore's career tanked (just like Larry Renault) due to his out-of-control alcoholism (just like Larry Renault).
- The Alcoholic: Larry Renault is drunk during the day, and drunk for a crucial meeting with a producer, and he tries to hock his belt buckle and picture frame for a little more liquor. This bleak portrait of alcoholism was unusual for The Thirties.
- As You Know: Lots of expo-speak from Oliver and Carlotta about how he once courted her and how she toyed with all the eligible bachelors in New York back in the old days.
- Blackmail: Kitty's maid, who knows who Kitty is having an affair with, blackmails Kitty into handing over a diamond bracelet.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Packard is leading Jordan on while attempting to take control of Jordan Lines through front men. Kitty threatens to expose his schemes.
- Deadpan Snarker: Carlotta, who gets off several zingers. The film ends with a memorable exchange between her and Kitty as they go in for dinner.
Kitty: I was reading a book the other day.
: (Double Take, reels in shock
) Reading a book?
Kitty: Yes. It's all about civilization or something. A nutty kind of a book. Do you know that the guy says that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?
Carlotta: (looks over Kitty's sexy body and tight dress) Oh, my dear, that's something you need never worry about.
- Deus ex Machina: Packard is all set to take control of the Jordan Lines, when Kitty demands that he stop and give control back to Jordan—because she doesn't want to ruin her first society party.
- Double Take: Carlotta gets off a great one at the end (see Deadpan Snarker above).
- Driven to Suicide: Larry, having finally realized he's finished as an actor, facing imminent eviction from his suite, without even five dollars to buy some booze, kills himself with gas from the fireplace. (He arranges the lighting artfully before sitting down in a lounge chair.)
- Gold Digger / Trophy Wife: Kitty, who is only in it for Dan's money.
- Hyperlink Story: The people getting invited to the Jordan dinner are related to each other in ways some of them aren't aware of. See the introduction.
- Hypocritical Humor: Kitty says, during a party conversation about sunbathing: "You know, my skin's terribly delicate and I don't dare expose it." Then she turns around, revealing her backless dress.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Carlotta says this, which is why she explicitly rejects Oliver's suggestion to go back to the stage. She wants people to remember her as beautiful, instead of old and fat.
"I was rather gorgeous, wasn't I?"
- May-December Romance: Paula is 19, Larry is 47. To his credit, Larry feels bad about this. Paula doesn't.
- Opera Gloves: Kitty Packard the social climber wears them as part of her outfit.
- Playing Sick: Kitty does it so she could meet her lover, the doctor.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Max Kane, Larry's agent, finally manages to get Larry a meeting with a producer, which a drunken Larry ruins with his demands for a bigger part. An enraged Max then tells Larry in no uncertain terms that he's finished.
Larry: You're trying to throw a scare into me.
: Oh, no. l'm just telling you the truth... You know, you never were an actor. You did have looks, but they're gone now. You don't have to take my word for it. Just look in any mirror. They don't lie. (forces Renault to look at himself in a nearby mirror
) Take a good look. Look at those pouches under your eyes. Look at those creases. You sag like an old woman! Get a load of yourself! Wait till you start tramping around the offices, looking for a job, because no agent's going to handle you. Sitting in those anterooms hour after hour, giving your name to office boys that never even heard of you. You're through, Renault! You're through in pictures and plays and vaudeville and radio and everything. You're a corpse, and you don't know it. Go get yourself buried!
- Serious Business: Almost everyone else invited to the dinner is having a major life crisis, but to Millicent, arranging a nice party is serious business. She does snap out of this towards the end when the doctor tells her how serious Oliver's illness is.
- Sexy Backless Outfit: See Hypocritical Humor above.
- Social Climber: Kitty pesters her husband about attending the movie's titular dinner party, which is expected to include the aristocrats Lord and Lady Ferncliffe among the guests. It could be argued that the hostess of the dinner, Millicent Jordan, is also engaging in this by having the party. The Ferncliffes are members of the English aristocracy, while the Jordans own a shipping company (and the Packards' money is newer yet).
- Spiritual Successor: To Grand Hotel, the previous year's Best Picture winner, which not only employed a similar narrative structure but had some of the same actors playing similar parts (Lionel Barrymore as a sympathetic, terminally ill man, John Barrymore as a tragic figure who meets a sad end, Wallace Beery as an obnoxious Corrupt Corporate Executive).
- Third-Person Person: Carlotta does this from time to time, particularly when she is embarrassed to tell Oliver that she sold off her shares in Jordan Lines.
- Title Drop: Several times when mentioning the time of the dinner.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Dan Packard is overweight, unattractive and much older than his wife, Kitty (who only married him for his money and is cheating on him).
- Video Credits: Used in the opening credits. Much more common in The Thirties.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Larry Renault is a rare male example of this. He's washed up, but he refuses to admit it, still imagining himself to be a star.
Renault: Now listen Stengel, I'm a name, and I know it.
- Your Cheating Heart: Kitty is having an affair with her doctor, who is himself married. The doctor wants to break it off and go back to his wife, while Kitty is trying to maintain her hold on him. The doctor also cheated on his wife with many other women before.
- Your Days Are Numbered: Dr. Talbot doesn't tell Oliver this, but Oliver figures it out anyway.