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Dinner at Eight
Dinner at Eight
Actors: Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore
Genres: Comedy, Drama
NR     2005     1hr 51min

A Park Avenue snob assembles a motley group for a dinner party in honor of a visiting English peer. All of the guests have problems of their own which come out over the dinner conversation. — Genre: Feature Film-Comedy — Rat...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore
Genres: Comedy, Drama
Sub-Genres: Classic Comedies, Drama
Studio: Warner Home Video
Format: DVD - Black and White - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/01/2005
Original Release Date: 01/12/1934
Theatrical Release Date: 01/12/1934
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 51min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 15
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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Movie Reviews

Remains one of the finest films from the early sound era
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 05/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"DINNER AT EIGHT is often referred to as a comedy, and while there are some marvelous comic moments, this film is no more a comedy than THE GODFATHER. I think one reason it is thought to be a comedy is the final lines of the film, where the decidedly unbookish Jean Harlow tells Marie Dressler that she had been reading in a book (a revelation that visibly jolts Dressler) that in the future all jobs would be done by machines. After eye-balling Harlow from toe to head she assures her, "Oh, my dear. That's something you need never worry about." There are other humorous moments, but the truth is that while the tone of the film might often be humorous, the form of the film is tragic. Yes, the destruction of the Jordan shipping company has been prevented by Jean Harlow's character blackmailing her husband, who has been trying to buy a majority of the company shares via a proxy, but it doesn't change the sense of precariousness that pervades the film. In many ways, this is one of the great films dealing with the end of the twenties and the effects of the stock market crash. Although the film revolves around a hostess's efforts to throw a lavish dinner party, virtually every individual invited is suffering from problems of one sort or another. The aging actress, long retired, is strapped for cash. The actor, a former matinee idol, has been revealed as a former pretty face by the advent of the talking film; he now is unable to find work and utterly broke. The shipping magnate, whose wife is organizing the dinner party, is suffering both from financial woes and ill health, and is in danger of losing the company that has bourn the family name for nearly a century. The only individuals, in fact, who are thriving and doing well are the crude, ill-bred Packards, who are gaining in wealth as rapidly as all of those in the upper crust of society are losing theirs. Few films in Hollywood history have been as fixated on class as this. Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufmann, the authors of the original stage play, were always attuned to such issues in their work, and there is almost an anthropological air as they analyze the changes taking place in the upper rings of society.

The film features one of the most celebrated ensemble casts ever seen. Brothers John and Lionel Barrymore have no scenes together, but apart they provide many great moments. This was one of the last films that Lionel made while he was still able to ambulate normally. Throughout the thirties arthritis and a serious hip injury made it increasingly difficult for him to walk, sometimes feigning onscreen injuries (such as a supposed broken leg in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, that gave him an excuse to wield a crutch), always sitting as much as possible. His brother John suffered even more decline, in his case brought on by the same kind of excessive drinking we see in his character. There is, however, a great deal of difference between Barrymore and Larry Renault, the actor he portrays. Renault is a has-been, a former pretty face with no real acting talent. Barrymore possessed prodigious talent, and despite his increasing drinking difficulties managed to find a great deal of work throughout his decline, even if what he mainly played was a series of drunks. The film creates an odd time warp for me, since in 1933 both John and Lionel were aging, yet 72 years later John's granddaughter and Lionel's great niece Drew is still quite young.

One of the joys of the film is being able to see the great Marie Dressler as aging former stage actress Carlotta Vance. Despite being extremely overweight and possessing looks that could only be described as extremely unpleasant, one noticed her appearance only briefly after seeing her in action. One of the great stage performers of her day, for some reason Dressler never managed much success in film during the silent era. Ironically, after age had ravaged her looks and her obesity increase, she unexpectedly became one of the first great stars of the sound film, winning an Oscar for one film and a nomination for another, and completely upstaging Greta Garbo in her first sound film. DINNER AT EIGHT is not Dressler's greatest performance, but for most film fans it is the most readily obtainable one. Tragically, shortly after the film was released she was diagnosed with cancer, and she died less than a year after the film's release. It is a fitting tribute to her that the best and final moment of this film was created by her stunned reaction to Harlow's stating that she had been reading a book.

The vivacious Billie Burke had been recently widowed when she starred in the film as Mrs. Jordan, her husband no less than the greatest of Broadway impresarios, Florence Ziegfield. She sparkles in every scene in which she appears. Wallace Beery always came across as a bit of a bull in a china shop, and here the china shop is anything to do with social grace. There is also a hint in his character of the way the country as a whole was changing, as the men who know their way around money started supplanting the traditional aristocracy. Jean Harlow's hair always struck me as a bit surreal, but there is no question that she possessed an earthy sexiness and beauty that was unique in thirties Hollywood. Although she is the secret savior of the Jordan family, she is hardly an angel, playing someone who is a a former stripper or worse, a current adulteress, and hopelessly uncouth and crude. But she also manages to be the most charming character in the film. The film also features one of Lee Tracy's finest screen performances. Tracy's film career was more or less destroyed shortly after this one due to an international political incident he generated during a moment of extreme inebriation, but he is superb here as Barrymore's long-suffering agent.

The film was one of George Cukor's first great films, and while he is often said to have been a great women's director, the truth is that he was simply superb with people talking. Cukor always managed to make people simply talking tremendously exciting.

The quality of the print used in the production of the DVD is extraordinary high. I've rarely seen a DVD with a brighter or cleaner image, and the film looks as if it could have been released yesterday. I'd have to rate this as one of the cleanest versions of an early 1930s film I have ever seen."
Stunning character studies with comedy and tragedy that is a
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 05/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Dinner At Eight is an outstanding movie with great acting, a fine plot even if a bit complicated, and a wonderful cast! The movie held my attention every step of the way; and it's a much more artistic film with much more social commentary than I expected.

When the action begins, Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) is obsessively planning a dinner party. Unbeknownst to Millicent, her husband Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore) is suffering from serious, life threatening heart problems--and their steamship freighter enterprise is going broke after a century-long life of being the family business.

As if that weren't enough, there's plenty more people with serious financial and personal problems that showcase human foibles as well the toll the depression took on even the wealthiest of people after the stock market crash. We meet Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), an older actress who is broke. Carlotta sells her stock in the Jordan shipping business to stay alive; and she's not the only one selling her stock on that fateful day when so much of the Jordan stock is sold that the family fortune just might be in jeopardy. There is Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) and his wife Lucy (Karen Morley) who tolerates Wayne's never-ending marital infidelities; and we also see that the only people climbing up the ladder are the comparatively crude and unsophisticated couple Dan and Kitty Packard (Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow).

Throughout the movie there are vignettes that display how cruel life can be. There is a rather long scene in which we see the poignant suffering of a man who was huge in silent pictures and who has gone broke and "washed up" now that the "talkies" are in style. John Barrymore brilliantly plays Larry Renault and his story is told with great care and sophistication. I admire the way George Cukor directed Larry Renault's part of the story.

Of course, the plot can go anywhere from here--how will Larry Renault handle the fact that he's through in show business? What happens when Lucy Talbot catches her husband Wayne cheating on her yet again--this time with Kitty Packard? How do the Packards even manage to stay together--they fight all the time. Moreover, when and how will Millicent Jordan ever come back down to Earth and realize that there are many things in life that are infinitely more important than her dinner party? No plot spoilers, here, folks--you'll just have to watch the movie to find out!

The DVD's best extra is a Sharon Stone hosted featurette on Jean Harlow which is very well done. The Vitaphone short "Come To Dinner" is amusing as well.

Dinner At Eight is a film that has so many wonderful actors and so much depth and meaning that it simply must be seen to be truly appreciated. I highly recommend this film for fans of the actors and classic movie buffs will cherish this DVD for years to come.
Mark Norvell | HOUSTON | 03/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Priceless cast in one of the best films of the '30's. A socialite frantically tries to pull off an A-list dinner party as everything crumbles around her at the last minute. Billie Burke (a few years from her turn as Glinda the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz") is matchless as the fluttery Mrs.Jordan, the wealthy matron. The A-list cast includes Marie Dressler as a faded stage star, both Barrymores Lionel and John, and Jean Harlow as the social-climbing wife of Wallace Beery. The George S.Kaufman-Edna Ferber comedy-drama (based on the play) is good on the screen with George Cukor directing the multi-layered plot and sub-plots that somehow never get confusing. There's too much going on in "Dinner at Eight" to go into but suffice it to say it's as completely satisfying now as it was in 1934. A classic to be treasured. While the acting is top notch all round, it's Dressler as Carlotta Vance and Harlow who pull out the stops and nearly walk off with the film. Their meeting at the end results in one of the funniest lines in movie history expertly delivered by Dressler. A must for vintage film collectors. The DVD print is fine. Enjoy."
Five Course Performances Make This Dinner Sublime
Nix Pix | Windsor, Ontario, Canada | 03/05/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"MGM, the studio with "more stars than there are in heaven" had only recently proved their point by putting six of their top talents in one film; "Grand Hotel" (1932). A clean sweep at the Oscars, the success prompted David O. Selznick - then a rival producer on the backlot - to devise his own all star melodrama of merit with "Dinner At Eight" (1933). The plot is threadbare but serviceable. Affluent hostess, Millicent Jordon (Billie Burke) is so enraptured at the prospect of throwing the society party of the decade that she eschews all other concerns in favor of the frivolities associated with such a swank soiree. Her roster of guests include the boorish social climber, Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) and his much younger wife of hot body but low class, Kitty (Jean Harlow), aging grand dame of the theater, Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), family physician, Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) and desperate has-been movie actor, Larry Renault (John Barrymore). Millicent's husband, the kind-hearted, good natured Oliver (Lionel Barrymore) has just discovered that he is fatally ill. However, acknowledging his wife's lack of feeling for anyone but herself, Oliver decides to forego divulging his diagnosis, presumably until after the party. What is most engaging and impressive about Selznick's take on the all star spectacle is that, unlike "Grand Hotel", he does not afford any one actor particular preference or even attempt to evenly space their on screen time. Rather, there is a strange sense - particularly from a star system as galvanic as MGM's - that the people being observed are just common folk on route to a flashy night on the town. The film also gives DVD audiences their only chance to admire the comedic stylings of one of Vaudeville's most gifted former actresses - Marie Dressler. In girth, stature and poignancy, Dressler is at her personal zenith - delving high comedy and low melodrama with equal panache. At one point in the evening, after having been told by Harlow's character that a book has explained that machinery is going to take the place of every profession, Dressler casually eyes the sultry Harlow from head to toe before commenting, "Oh my dear, that's one thing you need never worry about." Warner Bros. DVD treatment of this classic star vehicle is about on par with their lack luster previous treatment of "Grand Hotel". Although the gray scale can exhibit some nicely balanced contrasts, solid blacks and clean whites, more often there is a sense that contrast levels are a tad too low and blacks are more deep gray than black. There is, at times, an excessive amount of age related artifacts for an image that is rarely smooth or easy on the eyes. Film grain is also obtrusive. The audio has been cleaned up but exhibits a fairly noticeable background hiss throughout. The Sharon Stone hosted bio on Harlow - which is all too brief, and a short subject: "Come to Dinner" are all the extras you get. A shame."