Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Dinner at Eight (1933)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Dinner at Eight (1933)

In MGM's and 'women's director' George Cukor's sophisticated comedy/melodrama with many great stars (inspired by the format of MGM's previous year's Grand Hotel (1932) set at a ritzy art-deco Berlin hotel), the first all-star comedy; the elaborately-polished, over-stagy and stylish MGM film was based on the popular, dialogue-heavy Broadway hit by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber:

  • the story, composed of many subplots or mini-dramas seen in vignettes or series of tableaux, surrounded one main event - a formal, posh Friday night Manhattan dinner party during the height of the Depression; the film examined the tangled and changed lives of the high society guests, most of whom were hiding serious problems and issues, from the time the invitations were given out for "dinner at eight" at the Jordan's home to the time of the party itself about a week later; the film ended with the start of the party just as the beleaguered guests entered the dining room
  • in the opening credits, the film introduced the major players in the cast by illustrating them as part of a formal dinner place setting - each performer's face was seen in the middle of a dinner plate on a table

Carlotta Vance

Larry Renault

Dan Packard

Kitty Packard

Oliver Jordan

Max Kane

Dr. Wayne Talbot

Millicent Jordan
  • one week before a 'dinner party,' at the Jordan home, social-climbing Park Avenue snob Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) was jubilant that she had scored a social coup by acquiring an RSVP acceptance (via radio on a boat coming over from England) from the distinguished and wealthy Lord and Lady Ferncliffe, the richest couple in England; the Jordan's 19 year-old engaged daughter Paula (Madge Evans) was more preoccupied by her imminent marriage in a month to her fiancee Ernest DeGrafff (Phillips Holmes) who was currently in Europe, and oblivious to Paula's cheating with another man
  • facing bankruptcy, shipping line magnate Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore), who was also in bad health (with a failing heart), was worried that some unknown financier was buying up stock in his company for a hostile, competitive take-over during the Depression
  • at Oliver's office, 1890s celebrated, one-time stage star - plus-sized, grand dame actress Carlotta (or "Lotta") Vance (Marie Dressler) arrived, and admitted to Oliver (her former lover) (that she was destitute due to her own dire financial situation: "I'm as flat as a millpond"; she also blamed her age for never returning to the stage again; during her first visit back to the US after 10 years, she felt "lost already...Everything's changed. I couldn't stand it here. I'd die"; the eccentric, matronly grand dame fondly and nostalgically remembered the old days; Carlotta had been invited to the 'dinner at eight' but was the sole single-guest and Millicent worried that she needed to be paired up with a partner
  • as one of the few stockholders in the Jordan shipping business, Carlotta proposed selling back her declining Jordan Shipping Line stock, her only remaining wealth, to restore herself: ("Ladies must live") during the hard times. Oliver tried to dissuade her because of the difficult circumstances he was also facing; she remembered fondly how Oliver had been her ex-beau, and proposed to her at the age of 21, although she refused
  • tycoonish, nouveau riche businessman Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) entered the office for an appointment; Jordan asked for some temporary financial support from Packard, by offering to sell some of his stock holdings to him until business improved
  • meanwhile, the fluttery Mrs. Oliver Jordan (Billie Burke) was constantly hyper-ventilating and hysterical over her invite list and dinner plans for the next Friday's "dinner at eight" for a group of elite socialites; Jordan suggested and she agreed to invite the Packards for dinner (as an "enormous favor" to help him out of his financial difficulties, and to increase Dan's interest in his proposed deal)
  • Packard's platinum blonde trophy wife Kitty Packard ('blonde bombshell' Jean Harlow) appeared in her white-hot extravagant art-deco bedroom; the hussy-tart commoner Kitty was propped up in her extravagant bed, wearing a silky white negligee, while taking bites out of chocolates and putting the unappealing pieces back in the box; without seeking approval from her husband, the ill-mannered, gold-digging Kitty accepted a phone invitation to attend the dinner at the prestigious Jordan residence; she was a double-dealing cuckolder engaged in a secret affair with her own physician, sex-addicted serial adulterer Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe), who often rushed to attend house-calls for her hypochondria and take care of her feigned ailments

Kitty Packard (Jean Harlow) in White Art-Deco Bedroom

Kitty in Bed Eating Chocolates

Lounging in Bed in Silky Negligee
  • when Kitty's 'common law', mismatched husband-partner Packard hurriedly entered, he criticized Kitty for being bedridden, for her continual laziness, complaints about feigned sickness, and annoying behavioral habits; he boasted about how he would take over the Jordan Shipping Line; at first, the social-climbing Kitty realized how Dan was savoring a hostile, double-crossing take-over of the Jordan's business, "a dirty deal," that would threaten their invitation for dinner; when Packard refused to attend, Kitty bickered about his refusal, realizing that he was denying her a rare opportunity to hob-knob with high-class society folk; using cutsy 'baby-talk' and her sing-songy voice, she manipulatively persuaded him to reconsider, since the Ferncliffes were attending
  • on the day of the dinner, when Millicent's invited "extra man" Freddy Hope turned sick, she phoned washed-up, failed ex-matinee idol and silent-era actor Larry Renault (John Barrymore) who was staying at the Versailles Hotel where Carlotta was residing; it was a last-minute invitation so that Carlotta could have a seat-mate; Millicent was entirely unaware that her daughter Paula was having a foolish and clandestine love-struck affair with the ex-movie star and was in the room at the time of the call; a three-time divorcée and alcoholic, Larry was on-edge due to his tenuous career prospects; he accepted the invitation, and then urged Paula to forget about him and return to her fiancee to be married; he claimed he had a sordid history as cad-womanizer, and an aging, "burned-out" three-time divorcee
  • shortly later as the time for the dinner rapidly approached, Larry's agent Max Kane (Lee Tracy) arrived as Paula was leaving (and spotted by Carlotta in the hallway), asked: "How is the great profile today?", and then shared some "disappointing news" - the original producer of a proposed Broadway play had been replaced due to sickness, and the new theatrical manager/producer preferred a different person for the lead role; Larry would be demoted to a bit part role as a beachcomber; it was disheartening news for Larry who was on the verge of being destitute, who immediately pawned some personal items and purchased more alcohol
  • in a brief serious scene, Dr. Talbot's wife Lucy (Karen Morley) confronted him in his medical office about his affair with Kitty; Lucy knew he was continually unfaithful and had been a serial adulterer for a long time; she was amazed that she had remained loyal to him for so long: "Because I'm still in love with you. Isn't that funny? You'd think I'd have more pride." She proposed that he slowly wean himself away from his promiscuous sex addiction to low-class, "common" but glamorous women; he agreed he was a "patient" who wished to be cured
  • more complexities about the impending evening's dinner arose, with Dr. Talbot's undivulged prognosis of Oliver Jordan's terminal thrombosis of the heart, violent squabbles in the Jordan kitchen between the Jordans' chauffeur and butler over the love of upstairs maid Dora (Anna Duncan), Carlotta's admission that she had sold her stock in the Jordan Shipping Line to a buyer named James K. Baldridge (swindler Packard with a disguised name), news that the Ferncliffes couldn't attend the dinner and were on their way to Florida, and Paula's decision to divulge something "terribly important" about her fiancee Ernest; Millicent began to hyperventilate over all the things that were going wrong, including her husband's health, and selfishly berated both Oliver and Paula: "I'm the one who's in trouble. You don't know what trouble is, either of you!"
  • on the evening of the dinner, in one of the film's most memorable scenes, Kitty and Dan argued with a particularly violent, white-hot shouting match, as they were getting ready; after he accused her of too much 'back-talk,' she countered by calling her blustering, braggard husband uncouth; she blamed his lack of attention had caused her to have an affair with another man; he threatened to divorce Kitty for adultery as a low-class "alley cat"; she threatened to deny him his political career aspirations with a threat to expose his unlawful, phony business deals; he called her a "poisonous little rattlesnake," and warned that he would be leaving her after the dinner; Kitty demanded to be escorted to the Jordan dinner party to not miss out on associating with the high-class guests, by again threatening to "broadcast the whole rotten deal" with Jordan if he didn't cancel it
  • in Larry's Versailles Hotel suite at 7 pm, the drunken has-been actor was visited by his agent and the new play producer; he berated them for offering him the insulting and paltry 'beachcomber' role; Larry's agent announced that he was through with promoting him - and gave a brutal assessment of Renault's chances, and ended with a sneering insult: "Go get yourself buried"; after they left, the deeply-despairing Larry sealed up his room and in a vivid but pathetic suicide scene, Larry turned on the gas fireplace - one of the film's most indelible images was of failed, ex-silent era star profile seated under a floor lamp showing off his profile as he died
Despairing Larry Renault (John Barrymore - "The Profile") Committing Suicide by Gas in His Hotel Suite
  • just before the guests entered the formal dining room at the Jordan's residence to be seated, Carlotta privately spoke to an unashamed Paula about knowing of her affair with Larry, and then informed Paula of Larry's tragic suicidal death - she counseled Paula to never let her fiancee Ernest know about her past affair with Renault; and after Millicent was alerted to Oliver's serious health condition, she vowed that she would become a better and more attentive wife by being less selfish; and Kitty prompted and prodded Dan to end business take-over threats to acquire Oliver's shipping business via a dummy name (Baldridge) - thus saving the Jordan Shipping Line
  • in the famous show-stopping closing scene with priceless dialogue, the vulgar Kitty made conversation with aging grand dame actress Carlotta Vance on their way into dinner:

Kitty: "I was reading a book the other day."
Carlotta (staggering at the thought): "Reading a book!"
Kitty: "Yes. It's all about civilization or something, a nutty kind of a book. Do you know that the guy said that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?"
Carlotta (eyeing Kitty's costume and shapely physical charms): "Oh, my dear, that's something you need never worry about."

Pre-Dinner Conversation Between Carlotta and Kitty

Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke)

Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore) with Distressed Daughter Paula (Madge Evans)

Oliver Jordan (Lionel Barrymore) with Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler)

Carlotta - In Financial Distress

Business Tycoon Dan Packard (Wallace Beery)

Millicent Jordan Hyperventilating Over Dinner Invitations and Plans

Kitty - Feigning Illness with Her Adulterous Dr. Talbot (Edmund Lowe)

Larry Renault (John Barrymore) Invited to Jordan Dinner, With Paula in His Hotel Room

Disappointing News for Larry From His Agent Max Kane (Lee Tracy)

Dr. Talbot's Wife Lucy Speaking to Her Husband About His Many Unfaithful Dalliances with Patients, Including Kitty

Millicent Hyperventilating About All Her Worries About the Dinner

Kitty Arguing With Husband Dan Packard (Wallace Beery)

Millicent's Vow to Care For Her Ailing Husband

Kitty Prompting Dan To End Take-Over Threat Against Oliver's Business


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