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.

Liked it better than Unholy Three because of the super fast pace and more exciting atmosphere, the wonderfully (if not accurately) rendered African setting.

Ron on IMDB helpfully summarizes: “Magician Phroso’s wife Anna leaves him for another man, named Crane, who fights with Phroso and leaves him paralyzed. Later Anna returns and he finds her dead, leaving behind a daughter. For 18 years Phroso, known as “Dead Legs” by his cronies, plots his revenge, becoming a pseudo-king in East Africa, nearby where Crane has set up an ivory business. When the daughter is grown, having lived in a brothel in Zanzibar thanks to “Dead Legs”, Phroso put his plan into action, resulting in revenge and retribution all around.”

Lon Chaney is great as Dead Legs, but the great Lionel Barrymore looked pretty generic to me, failed to stand out as the arch-rival. Young wife Anna quit acting the following year (right before sound films) and lived until 1986. Drunken Doc, who falls in love with the daughter, was Warner Baxter, who won the best-actor oscar that same year in the second annual academy awards, for In Old Arizona, the first full-talkie.

Not to be confused with the 50’s British Ealing Studios West of Zanzibar about a good-hearted man (Story of O actor Anthony Steel with wife Sheila Sim of A Canterbury Tale) fighting ivory pirates.