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Dinner at Eight

(1933 b 111')

En: 8 Ed: 8

This adaptation of a play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber reveals the troubles of selected socialites invited to a dinner party during the depression.

Mrs. Jordan (Billie Burke) plans a dinner party and begins by inviting her daughter Paula with her fiancé. Shipping owner Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore) says his boat cannot sail because of lack of cargo. Actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler) in furs calls on him to mend her shattered fortunes. She refuses to return to the stage and wants to sell her Jordan stock; but Oliver can't buy it back just now. He hopes mining magnate Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) will help him, and Packard asks Jordan for figures on his proposal. Jordan tells his wife to invite the Packards to the dinner, and she reluctantly agrees. To justify her laying around in bed all day Packard's wife Kitty (Jean Harlow) explains to her husband that he is an extrovert, while she is an introvert. Dan Packard does not want to attend the dinner until he learns that it is for the richest man in England. Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) visits a complaining Kitty, and they kiss.

Mrs. Jordan calls to invite the declining movie star Larry Renault (John Barrymore), and Paula Jordan (Madge Evans) urges him to accept, wanting her lover to see her home. Larry drinks, while she objects. Only 19 she loves the aging star, who is still married. He tells her he has been in love too many times. Carlotta sees them in the hallway. Larry's agent Max Kane (Lee Tracy) tells him the producer is not doing the play, but another producer may give him a small part. Larry is broke and tries to pawn a picture frame. Dr. Talbot's wife Lucy (Karen Morley) overhears a call from Kitty but has learned to accept his addiction to women. Oliver Jordan staggers in with a pain in his chest and does not have long to live.

Carlotta arrives at 5 to tell Oliver Jordan she sold her stock. He calls and discovers the same man has bought other stock too. Mrs. Jordan learns that the English lord is not coming and lashes out at her suffering husband. Dan and Kitty Packard quarrel about going to Washington DC and her lover. She threatens to tell the politicians about his corrupt business dealings, and the maid blackmails her for a diamond bracelet. Kane brings the producer Stengel (Jean Hersholt) to a tipsy Larry. Stengel is offended and leaves. Kane tells Larry he is through as an actor, and the manager tells him he must move. Larry seals the doors, rips up Paula's photo, and turns on the gas.

The Packards arrive to find a Jordan cousin has replaced the English lord. Carlotta tells Paula that Larry killed himself and advises her not to tell Ernest of her past. Mrs. Jordan cries after the doctor tells her of Oliver's condition. Oliver says the Jordan line is gone. Mrs. Jordan says everyone is broke and begins economizing. Kitty makes Packard tell Oliver that he has saved the Jordan lines. As they go into dinner, Kitty says she read in the future machines will replace all professions; but Carlotta says that will not affect Kitty.

This character drama explores the social, psychological, and economic pressures on aging actors and businessmen during the depression. The social-climbing Packards are exposed as boorish, and the doctor and Paula suffer from unhappy affairs. Life for the upper crust is not so easy.

Copyright © 1999 by Sanderson Beck

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