Nov 29, 2013

[Movies] The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942)

I have to admit that what finally prompted me to start exploring the various movies of Bette Davis is primarily because of Neil Gaiman's upcoming computer game, Wayward Manor. When the game was announced, he mentioned that among his influences were stories like The Man Who Came to Dinner, which was a play before it became a movie.

This movie is rather interesting in terms of Bette Davis' overall career. This is well after her initial Oscar win for movies like Jezebel and yet still before All About Eve. So it's certainly an interesting part of her filmography to explore. Plus I was in the mood for a comedy.

So many movies owe a lot to the theater world, especially in this older period of Hollywood. In the same way that studios today are constantly looking at popular books and comics for movie inspiration, the older generation spent a lot of time looking at what had already been successful in the theater world. And that resulted in some interesting film projects and of course the big movie musicals later on.

Synopsis: The Man Who Came to Dinner is the 1942 movie adaptation of the 1939 Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman play of the same name. It was directed by William Keighley with a screenplay by Julius and Philip G. Epstein.

Popular radio personality Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) is touring the country when he accidentally slips on the icy step of the Stanley family in Ohio. Given the Christmas holidays, he insists that he should be allowed to recuperate as a guest in their home. But Mr. Whiteside is hardly a gracious house guest and pretty much takes over the house completely with his many guests and strange deliveries.

While all this is going on, Mr. Whiteside's assistant, Maggie (Bette Davis), finds herself falling for local newspaper man Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis) - this being despite her reputation as being a bit of a spinster. In time she finds herself falling in love with Bert and announcing to Sheridan that she intends to quit her job and get married. This naturally troubles Sheridan Whiteside, thus he decides to sabotage their relationship before anything can happen. To this end he invites the actress Lorraine Sheldon (Ann Sheridan) over to find a way to convince Bert to make her the leading lady in a play that he's written using whatever means necessary.

At first I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed by Bette Davis' character. And I suppose that can't be helped given the dominating personality of Monty Woolley and how he certainly makes it clear that he's the lead in this movie. The movie is rich with so many different ways that Sheridan Whiteside seems to relish in finding new ways to annoy his hosts.

But when the time does come to Bette Davis to step forward as we follow her story more, then the good stuff really happens. The little maneuvering that she gets into once Ann Sheridan's character comes along is just brilliant and I swear the varied expressions on her face are plain evil at times - at least when she's on the winning end. Overall it was nice to see her amazing acting range as she goes from a woman finally falling in love to one more than prepared to do anything to fight off a potential rival.

And let's take a moment to admire Ann Sheridan - she's gorgeous! And while Bette Davis is a looker in her own right, Ann Sheridan really shines. And her various outfits in this movie really went a long way to showing how well she can carry herself. The word that comes to mind is sophisticated - at least for me. And was certainly a worth adversary for Bette Davis.

The story has a fun variety of plot twists and narrative turns that keep things interesting. It certainly has the pacing of a stage play, and you know that theater is a bit of a weakness of mine. Thus you have so many characters coming in and out of scenes with their own little quirks in order to bring things together as a crazy comedy of its own right. Some characters didn't feel all that necessary at times though, and I'm not sure if that's a challenge of the actual story or something that was not translated well when it became a movie.

The movie stands up pretty well despite the intervening years and I actually wish we had more comedies of this caliber. The laughs are more from the witty banter and of course the hilarious circumstances all brought together by the talent in the movie. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Thus The Man Who Came To Dinner is certainly a comedy classic that I'm going to do my best to get more people into (and perhaps this review will help things along). I rarely go crazy for adaptations, but they certainly knew what they were doing back in the day. So the movie gets a full 5 crazy animal deliveries out of a possible 5.

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