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Film / Dinner at Eight

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Dinner at Eight is a 1933 film directed by George Cukor and featuring an All-Star Cast. The movie features a half-dozen plotlines concerning the various members of the New York elite that have been invited to a society dinner.

  • 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.

Dinner at Eight 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.), and was adapted into an opera in 2017.


  • Actor Allusion: Max Kane says "how's the great profile?" as a joke. John Barrymore on stage was known as 'the great profile'.
  • 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 '30s.
  • 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 but conceals this from Dan, blackmails Kitty into handing over a diamond bracelet. Kitty also blackmails Dan into taking her to the dinner and stopping his takeover of the Jordan company.
  • Celebrity Paradox: One of the guests invited to the Jordan dinner grouses about how he'd rather go see the new Greta Garbo movie. One wonders whether the film Grand Hotel exists in this universe and how Oliver Jordan, Larry Renault and Dan Packard feel about having Hollywood actors who look exactly like them.
  • 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, ruining his Washington ambitions.
  • Curse Cut Short:
    Carlotta: I came down here to see the United States Customs Inspector. Isador J. Greenbaum, the son of a... Say, why shouldn't I own six fur coats?
  • 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.
    Carlotta: (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.)
  • Evil Gloating: Dan does a beautiful job of this in front of Kitty, thinking she's too stupid or avaricious to understand his Evil Plan. He's also repeatedly bragged about getting to see the President (this would be Franklin D. Roosevelt) and his ambitions to become a cabinet minister or some other important government position. Kitty, angry with Dan for neglecting her, threatens to expose his villainy, ruining his chances for Washington, unless he stops it, agrees to go to the dinner and explains to Oliver. Dan complies (with a kick in the ass from Kittynote ), of course blaming his henchmen and making himself look good in the process, but the point is that Oliver (recovering from a serious heart attack) understands his company will be safe.
  • Gold Digger / Trophy Wife: Kitty, who is only in it for Dan's money. Her real ambition is to "become a lady", and she tries to educate herself and meet high-class people she can learn from.
  • High-Class Gloves: Kitty Packard the social climber wears them as part of her outfit.
  • 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?"
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Oliver can tell his heart condition is serious but he tells everybody it's just indigestion. It's when he's so sick he can't come to meet the guests that Millicent takes the doctor upstairs to examine him, and the truth is revealed. She takes it in good spirits, saying they can downsize in various ways to save money and reduce stress. (Oliver will soon find out his business is safe, which should also help.)
  • May–December Romance: Paula is 19, Larry is 47. To his credit, Larry feels bad about this. Paula doesn't.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Kitty Packard, she is played by the sensual and satin clad Jean Harlow.
  • Playing Sick: Kitty does it so she could meet her lover, the doctor.
  • Pretty in Mink: Kitty's dress is mostly Simple, yet Opulent save for the white fox wrap attached at the shoulders.
  • "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.
    Max: Oh, no. I'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: Kitty wears one for the party. In the instructions for the original play, it's described like this: "When later she has the occasion to turn her back one modifies one's first impression of the front décolletage, which now seems almost prudish."
  • 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).
  • 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 '30s.
  • 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 Days Are Numbered: Dr. Talbot doesn't tell Oliver this, but Oliver figures it out anyway.