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

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

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.