For Reel

Dinner at Eight (1933)
January 14, 2016, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: George Cukor
3.5 Stars
Dinner at EightBusby Berkeley’s seminal musical Gold Diggers of 1933 set the tone for Hollywood’s dealings with the Depression in the early 1930s, its opening “We’re in the Money” sequence grinning through the fantasy of an economic turnaround. The same sense of desperation and denial can be seen in MGM’s portmanteau comedy melodrama Dinner at Eight, which involves the neurotic Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) fretting over the titular soirée as her husband (Lionel Barrymore) deals with impending bankruptcy and heart failure. Meanwhile, a fading drunken movie star played by John Barrymore becomes a footnote in history, his failure to evolve leaving him behind in the dust as men like the corrupt Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) plan for success. Director George Cukor was never less visually imaginative than in this film–nearly all of it plays out in static medium shots (an exception given to the contrasting sequences involving the lavish introduction of Jean Harlow and John Barrymore’s expressionistic downfall)–but he sensibly plays to the cast’s strengths, and as such the picture is carried by the exceptional performances, with Burke, Lionel Barrymore, and Marie Dressler stealing the show. If Grand Hotel (the clear blueprint for this film) imagined itself as a too-serious imitation of a European melodrama, Dinner at Eight is suitably earthbound and decidedly American, bringing with it a touch of sneering cynicism that helps wash down the sometimes tedious plot threads.

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