Dinner at Eight (1933, George Cukor)

Since Albert Brooks’s Modern Romance didn’t work out as a wedding anniversary movie (we turned it off after he’d spent 30 minutes flailing alone after dumping his longtime girlfriend), we tried this movie about society folks brought low by the great depression, full of cheating and suicide. Oh well, we made up for these rom-com failures by sandwiching them between the Soulmates Double-Feature and the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.

Many, many quality actors, most of whom make it to dinner at the Jordans’ house by the end (John “Twentieth Century” Barrymore, playing a washed-up actor, stuffs up the cracks and turns on the gas). His secret squeeze the Jordan girl, Madge Evans (Cukor’s David Copperfield) doesn’t take the news too badly. Her mom Billie Burke (a standout with her high-pitched perfect-party obsession) ignores her own husband Lionel “West of Zanzibar” Barrymore, who is slowly dying of heart failure.

More important than the Barrymores, now I’ve seen Jean Harlow (a harsh city-slangin’ beautiful blonde broad), Wallace Beery (not just a Barton Fink reference anymore; big scary guy) and Marie Dressler, whom I’ve never heard of, but she was pretty awesome as a large, loud washed-up actress, broke but not taking it so hard as the Barrymores.

Lionel owns a shipping company, which has some stock-trading drama involving Beery. Harlow spends most of the movie in bed berating her maid, is seeing her doctor for more than medical reasons. Some servants get in a knife fight (tragically off screen – Rules of the Game this ain’t). The long-awaited society couple who are the reason for the dinner never show up, so Burke’s frowny cousin and her dullard husband come instead. After talking about dinner all movie long, they finally head in to eat just as the end title comes up – wonder if Luis Bunuel was taking notes.

The movie’s undying lessons:
1) Always, always lie to your loved ones.
2) If a patient is dying, it’s best not to tell him.

Remade in the 1950’s with Mary Astor and Pat O’Brien then in the 80’s with Lauren Bacall, Charles Durning, Ellen Greene and Julia Sweeney. At least two musical parody two-reelers were made in ’33 to poke fun at the silly rich people with their love affairs and their suicides. Supper at Six was written by song lyricist Ballard MacDonald, and couldn’t have been worse than the one we watched, Come to Dinner (1933, Roy Mack), a contemptuous mini-remake populated by look-alikes who weren’t halfway decent at acting or comedy, but did a good job of quoting and resembling. Roy Mack presumably couldn’t be arsed since he made eighteen other shorts this year, including spoofs of Grand Hotel and I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, and two movies featuring a seven-year-old Sammy Davis Jr.

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