AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Dinner at Eight
Director: George Cukor (Dir)
Release Date:   12 Jan 1934
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 23 Aug 1933; Columbus, Ohio, New Orleans and Denver premiere: 28 Dec 1933
Production Date:   late Mar--mid-May 1933
Duration (in mins):   110 or 113
Duration (in reels):   11
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Cast:   Marie Dressler (Carlotta Vance)  
    John Barrymore (Larry Renault)  
    Wallace Beery (Dan Packard)  
    Jean Harlow (Kitty Packard)  
    Lionel Barrymore (Oliver Jordan)  
    Lee Tracy (Max Kane)  
    Edmund Lowe (Dr. Wayne Talbot)  
    Billie Burke (Millicent Jordan)  
    Madge Evans (Paula Jordan)  
    Jean Hersholt (Jo Stengel)  
    Karen Morley (Lucy Talbot)  
    Louise Closser Hale (Hattie Loomis)  
    Phillips Holmes (Ernest DeGraff)  
    May Robson (Mrs. Wendel)  
    Grant Mitchell (Ed Loomis)  
    Phoebe Foster (Miss Alden)  
    Elizabeth Patterson (Miss Copeland)  
    Hilda Vaughn (Tina)  
    Harry Beresford (Fosdick)  
    Edwin Maxwell (Mr. Fitch)  
    John Davidson (Mr. Hatfield)  
    Edward Woods (Eddie)  
    Anna Duncan (Dora)  
    Herman Bing (The waiter)  
    George Baxter (Gustave)  
    Herbert Bunston    
    May Beatty    

Summary: One week before her next society dinner, Millicent Jordan receives word that Lord and Lady Ferncliffe, whom she and her husband Oliver, a New York shipping magnate, had met in England the previous year, have accepted her invitation. Overjoyed by this social coup, Millicent is oblivious to Oliver's lack of enthusiasm about the dinner and her daughter Paula's preoccupation about the impending return of her fiancé, Ernest DeGraff, from Europe. While Millicent fusses about finding an "extra man" for her single female guest, former stage star Carlotta Vance, Oliver faces distressing news about his shipping business, which has been struck hard by the Depression. After Carlotta, a former lover of Oliver who resides in Europe, confesses to Oliver in his office that she is nearly broke and is interested in selling her stock in the Jordan Shipping Line, Oliver is visited by Dan Packard, a rough-talking, nouveau-riche mining magnate. Oliver confides in Dan about his financial struggles and asks him to take over some of his stocks until his business improves. With blustering hesitation, Dan agrees only to consider Oliver's proposition, then goes home to brag to his brassy, gold digger wife Kitty that the Jordan Line is a valuable asset that he is going to devour through crooked stock purchases. Unknown to Dan, however, Oliver has convinced Millicent to invite the Packards to her dinner, and the ill-mannered but socially ambitious Kitty eagerly has accepted. Although he at first refuses to go, Dan, who believes that he will soon be appointed to a Cabinet post, changes his mind about the dinner when he finds out that the Ferncliffes, the richest couple in England, are also invited. Also unknown to Dan, one of Millicent's other guests, Dr. Wayne Talbot, has been having an affair with Kitty while pretending to be tending to her feigned illnesses. On the eve of her dinner, Millicent, still short an extra man, telephones Larry Renault, a washed-up silent movie star, and extends him a last-minute invitation, completely unaware that Paula is having a clandestine love affair with him. At Paula's urging, Larry, a three-time divorcé and hardened alcoholic, accepts the invitation, but advises the much younger Paula to forget about him and return to Ernest. After Paula stubbornly refuses to take Larry's admonitions seriously, she is seen leaving his room by Carlotta, who is residing at the same hotel. Later that evening, Larry is visited by his agent, Max Kane, who tells him that the stage play he was planning to star in has lost its orginal producer. Max breaks the news to Larry that the play's new producer, Jo Stengel, wants another actor in the lead but is willing to consider him in a bit part. Although crushed, Larry agrees to think about the offer, then desperately sends a bellboy to pawn a few of his possessions and buy a fresh bottle of alcohol. The next day, Talbot is discovered by his wife Lucy in a compromising telephone call with Kitty and confesses that, in spite of his love for her, he is addicted to women and needs help to overcome his weakness. Talbot then is rushed to see Oliver, who has come to the doctor's office with severe chest pains. Although Talbot tries to hide his prognosis of terminal thrombosis of the heart, Oliver wisely deduces the seriousness of his illness. When he returns home, the weakened Oliver tries to explain to Millicent his need for rest, but she is too hysterical to hear because, among other minor disasters, the Ferncliffes have cancelled and are on their way to Florida. Although anxious to tell Millicent about Larry, Paula, too, is turned away by her upset mother and faces the prospect of facing Ernest alone. At the Packards, meanwhile, Kitty reveals to Dan in a fit of anger that she is having an affair. When threatened with divorce, however, Kitty tells her husband that, if he wants his Cabinet appointment instead of a career-stopping revelation from her about his crooked dealings, he must back down from his takeover of Oliver's line and treat her with more respect. Just before he is to leave for the dinner, Larry is visited by Max and Stengel and drunkenly berates Stengel for insulting him with his paltry offer. After a frustrated Max denounces him for ruining his last career chance and the hotel management asks him to leave, Larry quietly turns on his gas fireplace and commits suicide. At the ill-fated dinner, Carlotta confides in private with Paula, who is just about to break her engagement with Ernest, about Larry's demise and counsels the young woman to stay with her fiancé. At the same time, Millicent learns from Talbot about Oliver's illness. Finally awakened to her selfishness, Millicent announces to Oliver that she is ready to make sacrifices for the family and be a more attentive wife. Then, as the beleagured guests are about to go in to dinner, Dan, with prodding from Kitty, tells Oliver that he has put a stop to the "secret" takeover of the Jordan shipping line. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's, Inc.)
Production Text: David O. Selznick's Production
Distribution Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.  
Director: George Cukor (Dir)
  Cullen Tate (Asst dir)
Writer: Frances Marion (Scr)
  Herman J. Mankiewicz (Scr)
  Donald Ogden Stewart (Addl dial)
Photography: William Daniels (Photog)
Art Direction: Hobe Erwin (Art dir)
  Fred Hope (Art dir)
Film Editor: Ben Lewis (Film ed)
Costumes: Adrian (Gowns)
Music: Dr. William Axt (Mus score)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
  Charles Wallace (Sd mixer)
Production Misc: Howard Dietz (General press agt)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the play Dinner at Eight by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber (New York, 22 Oct 1932), as produced by Sam H. Harris.
Authors: Sam H. Harris
  Edna Ferber
  George S. Kaufman

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. 1/10/1933 dd/mm/yyyy LP4191 Yes

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
  Comedy-drama
Sub-Genre: Show business
  Society
 
Subjects (Major): Actors and actresses
  Business competition
  Family relationships
  Infidelity
  Love affairs
  Social climbers
 
Subjects (Minor): Alcoholics
  Hotel bellmen
  The Depression, 1929
  Heart disease
  Hotels
  Physicians
  Shipping
  Suicide
  Talent agents
  Theatrical producers

Note: A Feb 1933 FD news item stated that Joseph M. Schenck bought the screen rights to George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's play and was planning to produce it as a United Artists release in Jun 1933. Dinner at Eight was the first film that producer David Selznick made at M-G-M. Having worked successfully with George Cukor at his previous studio, RKO, Selznick arranged for the director, who was still under contract at RKO, to be exchanged for Lionel Barrymore. FD notes that actor Lee Tracy was filming another M-G-M picture, The Nuisance , at the same time he was making this film.
       Reviewers commented on the raciness of the concluding line in the film, in which "Carlotta Vance," the character portrayed by Marie Dressler, responds to "Kitty's" passing remark that machinery is taking the place of every profession by saying, "Oh my dear, that's something you never need to worry about." The character of Carlotta was inspired by the popular stage and silent film actress Maxine Elliott, according to Elliott's 13 Mar 1940 NYT obituary. In 1934, Dinner at Eight was voted one of the year's ten best by FD 's annual poll of critics. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   21 Feb 33   p. 2.
Film Daily   29 Mar 33   p. 6.
Film Daily   17 May 33   p. 1, 4
Film Daily   29 Jun 33   p. 6.
Film Daily   25 Aug 33   p. 9.
HF   25 Mar 33   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   24 May 33   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   29 May 33   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   24 Aug 33   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald   10 Jun 33   p. 36.
New York Times   20 Aug 33   p. 3.
New York Times   24 Aug 33   p. 18.
New York Times   3 Sep 33   p. 3.
Variety   29 Aug 33   p. 14.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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