The Man Who Came to Dinner

"OK"

The Man Who Came to Dinner Review


The Man Who Came to Dinner has traveled a long way: from stage (1939) to screen (1942) and then down through the decades to DVD, where we find it today. While this classic of erudite yet zany comedy still sparkles at times, the long trip has dulled some of its shine. What may have cracked people up way back then (references to ZaSu Pitts, calf's foot jelly, Katherine Cornell, long-distance operators, and Noel Coward) will leave today's audiences scratching their heads. Best to wait for the slapstick moments while imbibing on martinis.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart were master comic playwrights, and like You Can't Take It With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner is basically a drawing-room farce that spins more and more out of control as 20 or so main characters bounce off each other, hurl insults ("You flea-bitten Cleopatra!") and make wisecracks. At the center of the action is crusty old Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley), a curmudgeonly New York critic (based on Alexander Woollcott, who starred in the show on Broadway) who breaks his leg while on tour in a provincial Ohio town. Taking up residence with the well-to-do and very flustered Mr. and Mrs. Stanley (Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke), he quickly makes their house his own, commandeering their telephone and their butler while his secretary Maggie (a blousy Bette Davis) and his nurse (Mary Wickes) scurry around catering to his every obnoxious whim.

A dashing local reporter named Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis) shows up to interview Whiteside, and he and Maggie soon fall in love. That's a threat to Whiteside, since he needs her to work for him, so he summons his starlet friend Lorraine (Ann Sheridan) to put the moves on Bert as he deals with the distraction of visits from his wacky friends Banjo (Jimmy Durante acting like Harpo Marx) and Beverly Carlton (Reginald Gardiner acting like Noel Coward). Whiteside also finds time to convince the two teenage Stanley children to follow their dreams out of their dreary hometown, which throws the Stanleys into an even bigger tizzy.

Everything escalates as Whiteside's annual Christmas Eve broadcast, to be produced right in the living room, approaches. By the time Christmas Eve climaxes, the house is crammed with a boy's choir, an Egyptian mummy, and a flock of penguins, one of which has bitten the nurse. Farce indeed.

Unlike, say, Stage Door, another classic stage-to-screen transfer from the black-and-white era, Dinner falls somewhat flat on screen as the claustrophobia of this one-set comedy takes over. You can imagine seeing it in a Broadway theater surrounded by 1,000 guffawing theatergoers, but at home alone, you'll find yourself just urging it to move along. Whiteside is funny but grating, and Maggie is Bette Davis at her most sullen and unglamorous.

The Man Who Came to Dinner is funny at times but musty. It would be an interesting exercise to see if it could be updated with modern references without extinguishing that special Kaufman and Hart sparkle.

And he ate all the pie.



The Man Who Came to Dinner

Facts and Figures

Run time: 112 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 24th January 1942

Production compaines: Warner Bros.

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: William Keighley

Producer:

Starring: as Maggie Cutler, as Lorraine Sheldon, Monty Woolley as Sheridan Whiteside, Richard Travis as Bert Jefferson, as Banjo, as Mrs. Ernest Stanley, Reginald Gardiner as Beverly Carlton, Elisabeth Fraser as June Stanley, Grant Mitchell as Mr. Ernest Stanley, George Barbier as Dr. Bradley, as Miss Preen, Russell Arms as Richard Stanley, Ruth Vivian as Harriet, Edwin Stanley as John, Betty Roadman as Sarah, as Sandy, Nanette Vallon as Cosette, John Ridgely as Radio Man, as Bit Part (uncredited)

Also starring: ,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.