'Dinner at Eight': THR's 1933 Review
On August 29, 1933, MGM's star-studded big-screen adaptation of Dinner at Eight, directed by George Cukor, made its world premiere in New York. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:
What should prove one of the greatest boxoffice attractions of modern times has been fashioned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, under the supervision of David O. Selznick, in the production of Dinner at Eight. The attractiveness of this picture rests solely on the shoulders of a cast the like of which, in draw names and acting ability, has never been assembled before to be photographed by a camera.
Look over the list — Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, the two Barrymores, Madge Evans, Edmund Lowe, Karen Morley, Lee Tracy, Billie Burke, Jean Hersholt, Phillips Holmes, and ten or fifteen others; everyone almost sufficient to carry any picture on his or her own shoulders.
What this business needs, what theaters must have, what fans rush to pay their money for is an ATTRACTION and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer have certainly gone the limit in giving them one with this production. That the industry will be better off as a result of it, that exhibitors will be able to pay off other weekly losses by playing it, that fans will be lured out of their hideaways and brought back to the theatre to see it, goes without saying. It's a great attraction, a satisfying picture and a credit to any and all who had anything to do with it.
And because of it, the motion picture industry owes a great debt of gratitude to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for producing it.
Some of the best performances ever seen in pictures are given by the cast of Dinner at Eight. There will be arguments and fights for the next few months as to who is really the big star in this picture. Any and all selections can be easily defended. Accordingly, it comes down to your own opinion, based on who your favorite player is, as to which one reaches the greatest heights in this greatest of all casts. From where we sat, we pick Marie Dressler as the bright particular star of the piece, without taking away one ounce of credit from any of the twenty or more outstanding parts.
How that Dressler girl does troupe! It is worth the price of admission alone to see and hear her read the tag line of the picture to Jean Harlow at the fade-out. Boys and girls, there is not another person in pictures or on the stage, in the opinion of this reviewer, who could have gotten as much out of those few words as Miss Dressler.
Harlow tells Dressler, as they both go into dinner, "I've been reading a book. It's a nutty kind of a book. The man says that machinery will take the place of every profession." And Dressler looks her up and down, mostly down, and chirps: "Well, my dear, that's something you should never worry about."
John Barrymore gives an inspired performance as the has-been picture star. Little Harlow shows astounding improvement in this vehicle. Wallace Beery is Wallace Beery and where can you find another?
Billie Burke is the surprise hit of the show. Lionel Barrymore, as always, does things with his part that only Lionel Barrymore can do. Eddie Lowe, Lee Tracy and Madge Evans are distinct in their characterizations.
The finest thing that can be said about the casting of this picture, with all its star names, is that every star fits into his or her part like a glove. It was not a question of taking a lot of big names and throwing them into a story with the majority of them reading a line or two and then bowing out. There are big, meaty parts for every one of the performers and how they take advantage of them!
In the case of Dinner at Eight, the picture is far better than the play, if for no reason than the polishing Frances Marion, Herman Mankiewicz and Donald Ogden Stewart have given the George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber script, particularly in the last few sequences. The play was rather drab at the end. Audiences got the feeling that it was unfinished, and the final curtain left you sunk.
With the picture, some of the best bits of the whole production come at the finish, thereby lifting it to greater peaks of entertainment than was the case with the stage play.
George Cukor did a mighty job with his direction, one that would be hard to duplicate. Handling a cast of such important names, maneuvering them in and out of scenes with each other, and successfully combating every bit of temperament, is a job that requires not only excellent direction but a diplomacy that most directors do not possess.
In addition to the job of handling all that temperament, Cukor had a tough assignment with a narrative essentially episodic. Even though the play was almost perfectly written for the stage and the screenplay was all that could be asked for, the picture had to be kept moving and that movement from one episode to another called for everything that Cukor had and that many directors lack.
Put Dinner at Eight down as an exceptionally fine directorial job and place Cukor higher on your list of directors as a result of it. The story itself is probably too well known by this time to need space for its telling. The play has been a big hit in New York. Theatrical columns throughout the country have dwelt on it at great lengths. But the fact remains and stands out like a sore thumb that MGM has made a greater attraction out of it than Sam Harris, George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber did as a play. The shortcomings of the stage hit have been mended for picture purposes. It's a cinch that all who go to see Dinner at Eight as a picture will be given more entertainment than they paid to see.
William Daniels, who has many extremely fine photographic accomplishments to his credit, comes through with another bit of creative photography. The sets by Hobe Irwin were a treat.
To write a box-office angle on this picture, with all those names to draw ticket buyers, with a big stage hit for the story and a production such as only MGM could give it, would be like telling you that this is the year 1933. Everything has been given you as a showman to make money on. If you miss out on those opportunities, then your theater is really sunk and should be turned into some other business. — Staff review, originally published on May 29, 1933.