Theatre / The Man Who Came to Dinner

A 1939 farcical stage play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, adapted to film in 1942.

Sheridan Whiteside, a cranky, irascible New York author and critic, is making a nationwide tour. Two weeks before Christmas, he has a publicity stunt dinner at the Stanley household in Mesalia, Ohio. As he's leaving the house, he slips and breaks his hip. Now he must stay in the house while he heals, taking it over in the process, to the extreme annoyance of Mr. Stanley. His Hollywood friends send their most "heartfelt condolences." Meanwhile, his assistant, the eternally patient Maggie Cutler, falls in love with Bert Jefferson, the editor of the local Mesalia newspaper. Whiteside, horrified at the prospect of losing his assistant, decides he must put a stop to the romance. Bert has written a play, so Whiteside hits on the idea of bringing theater actress Lorraine Sheldon to town, ostensibly to talk about the play, but really to seduce Bert away from Maggie.

The Movie was released in 1942, starring Monty Woolley as Whiteside, Bette Davis as Maggie, and Ann Sheridan as Lorraine. Woolley had originated the role on Broadway but was not the studio's first choice, being relatively unknown to film audiences at the time. John Barrymore read for the part, but his severe alcoholism kept him from getting the role (he died not long after). Orson Welles wanted the part, and Charles Laughton was suggested, but Woolley wound up reprising his role after all.

Future Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton cowrote a musical adaptation called Sherry! in 1967. Hallmark Hall of Fame aired a remake in 1972, starring Welles and updating the story for the television age. Meanwhile, the original play has been revived several times, including a 2000 production starring Nathan Lane.

Contains examples of:

  • Annoying Patient: Whiteside is one of the greatest, completely taking over the Stanley household.
  • Asshole Victim: Just to make sure the audience doesn't sympathize with Mr. Stanley as Whiteside insults him and makes his life miserable, Mr. Stanley is shown as interfering in the lives of both of his children—keeping his son from pursuing a career in photography and blocking his daughter's marriage to a labor leader.
  • Butt Monkey: Mr. Stanley is a combination of this and The Chew Toy.
    • Not to mention Nurse Preen.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Harriet Stanley, whose general weirdness is explained when she's revealed to be a crazy murderer.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Whiteside is wheeled out of his room to see everyone's smiling faces. He takes one look and delivers his first line of the play:
    "I may vomit."
  • Evil Cripple: Whiteside, who screws with everyone from the comfort of his wheelchair.
  • Flyover Country: Whiteside, the consummate East Coast snob, expresses this opinion. His first line in the movie:
    "I simply will not sit down at dinner with Midwestern barbarians."
  • Girl Friday: The loyal, eternally patient Maggie is this to Whiteside.
  • Here We Go Again: Right at the end, as he's finally leaving the Stanley home, Whiteside slips on the ice again and hurts his hip. Again.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Whiteside asks to be introduced to June's boyfriend Sandy:
    June: Mr. Whiteside, he's a very sensitive boy. You... you'll be kind to him, won't you?
    Whiteside: CONFOUND IT, June, when are you going to learn that I am always kind and courteous? Bring this idiot in.
  • It's All About Me: Whiteside, especially when he tries to break up Maggie's romance just because he doesn't want to get a new assisstant.
  • Jerk Ass: Whiteside, persecuting Mr. and Mrs. Stanley, insulting most everyone else in Mesalia.
    • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He really does care about Maggie though.
    • Nathan Lane, who played the part of Whiteside in a Broadway revival, expressed concern that in the movie, Wooley as Whiteside comes off as mean for the sake of being mean.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Where do we start?
    • Whiteside himself is based on Alexander Woollcott, a Caustic Critic for The New Yorker and a friend of Kaufman and Hart. One day, Woollcott showed up at Hart's house unannounced and more or less took over, sleeping in the master bedroom, terrorizing the staff and writing in the guest book, "This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent."
    • Beverly Carlton is NoŽl Coward.
    • Banjo is a cross between Harpo Marx (reference is made to "Wackko and Sloppo") and Jimmy Durante. When Durante himself played the role in the movie, the role obviously became a bit more based on his characteristics.
      • Harpo himself also played Banjo (yes, a speaking part) in one 1941 summer theater production.
    • Lorraine Sheldon is Broadway actress Gertrude Lawrence.
    • Harriet Stanley is revealed to be an expy of Lizzie Borden.
  • The Noun Who Verbed: The title.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Whiteside's doctor pronounces his injuries fully healed by the end of the first act, but he insists on keeping his recovery a secret so he won't have to leave town. So he stays in his wheelchair for a while longer.
  • Platonic Life Partners: Whiteside and Maggie, which is the main reason he is upset over her new relationship.
  • Pretty in Mink: Maggie has a fox cape, and a fur muff that she kicks like a football in one scene.
  • Shipper on Deck: Whiteside, with regard to June and Sandy. (But not Maggie and Bert.)
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: After finding out that his hip is fine, Whiteside keeps this a secret, because he needs to stay in Mesalia long enough to break up Maggie's romance.

Alternative Title(s): The Man Who Came To Dinner