Filmsite Movie Review
Dinner at Eight (1933)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)

The Story (continued)

Dinner at Eight (1933)5:00 pm - The Night of the Dinner

In the Jordan home in the midst of preparations at 5:00 pm, Mrs. Wendel nervously admitted to Millicent that she had dropped the aspic on the floor and ruined it - the destroyed aspic was symbolic of the entire fiasco. The accident occurred when the butler Gustave (George Baxter) and the chauffeur Ricky were fighting in the kitchen over the love of upstairs maid Dora (Anna Duncan). Millicent quickly improvised and thought of an alternative: "Send for some crabmeat. You can cook it Newburg," but then learned more bad news. Ricky would be unable to run the errand because he had been arrested and was in jail for stabbing Gustave, who was in the hospital having his eye stitched up.

At the same inopportune time, Carlotta arrived to see Oliver, said she was "absolutely cracked up...simply depleted," and asked for a stiff whiskey and soda. She had been walking for many hours, and she was exhausted - she removed her shoes: "I've been in every office building from the Battery to the Bronx...I left the hotel at 11:00 this morning, a young and lovely girl. Now look at me. I took on 10 years trying to get from the Versailles to Times Square. And then I had a restful, nice luncheon with four lawyers. On the 88th floor of the what's-it building, you know, the Sky Club." She was ready to return to her hotel and take a long nap until the following noon ("Thank goodness I don't have to go to one of those dreadful dinners tonight"). Already exasperated, Millicent reminded the forgetful grand dame about her invitation to that night's dinner ("But you're dining here!"), followed by a visit to the theatre to see the play Say It With Music. Carlotta mentioned that she had already seen it "two or three times" (although she had only been in NYC for a brief time), and didn't much care for it due to the "funny man with a cigar" [a reference to Groucho Marx].

[Note: It would be a very long evening for the entirely elderly group, except for Kitty, to have an extravagant dinner, followed by the theatre - and a visit to the Embassy Club afterwards. Dinner at 8 would probably coincide with the start of a Broadway play, so the evening's plans didn't seem very realistically timed.]

When Oliver arrived, Carlotta sheepishly explained how she was forced (or duped) into selling her stock holdings without consulting him first: "You see, Oliver, sweet, you know, Carlotta's so broke. It was such a chance, and I-I sold my Jordan stock. I hope you won't mind. That's what I came here to tell you." She said the buyer, a "most charming man...with nice manners," was named James K. Baldridge who gave her a certified check. After a quick phone call, Oliver determined that stock in the Jordan line was also being sold off by others to the same Baldridge [Packard's fake name].

Another catastrophe came for Millicent just before the dinner - she received a phone call from Lord Ferncliffe's secretary that her prized invited guests would be unable to attend the dinner. Millicent became hysterical when she learned the bad news:

But they can't. They can't go to Florida. They are coming here to dinner. I'm giving the dinner for them. They've gone. When? But people don't do such things. I don't care how sudden it was. You should have let me... Well, all I can say is, I never heard of such a thing in all my life before. Never!

After Millicent hung up in dismay, now clearly upset and facing a long string of calamities, Paula entered and said she had something "terribly important" to divulge about her fiancee Ernest ("It's about Ernest and me"). But Millicent was so devastated and worried that she couldn't be bothered. And then Oliver, who had wisely deduced that his heart condition was serious, and also increasingly stressed about his company's impending buy-out, asked if Millicent minded if he didn't attend the post-dinner play ("I'm feeling pretty rotten. I'm up against a business thing"). Millicent became very aggravated and literally hyper-ventilated breathlessly with both Oliver and Paula about everything that was going wrong:

Business thing! At a time like this, you talk to me about a business thing, and feeling rotten. This is a nice time to say you're feeling rotten. You come to me with your - and you, whimpering about Ernest. Some little lovers' quarrel. I'm expected to listen to Ernest, and business and headaches, when I'm half out of my mind! Do you know what's happened to me? I've had the most ghastly day anybody ever had. No aspic for dinner. And Ricky in jail, and Gustave dying, for all I know. And a new butler tonight, and that Vance woman coming in. And havng to send for crabmeat. Crabmeat! And now, on top of everything else, the Ferncliffes aren't coming for dinner. They call up at this hour, the miserable cockneys. They call up to say they've gone to Florida. Florida! Who can I get at this hour? Nobody. I've got eight people for dinner. Eight people isn't a dinner. Who can I get? (To Oliver) And you come to me with your idiotic little - I am the one who ought to be in bed. 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. At first, they blasted each other during preparations:

Kitty: I've told you a million times not to talk to me when I'm doing my lashes.
Dan: And don't you talk to me when I'm shaving.

He boasted about crookedly swindling Oliver Jordan out of his shipping line and becoming rich: "Tomorrow, Oliver Jordan can go and buy himself a little rowboat and start all over again. He'll never know who done it." Kitty sarcastically replied: "You're so smart, you're gonna land in jail some day." She was quick with retorts and snappy responses:

Dan: Remember what I told you last week?
Kitty: I don't remember what you told me a minute ago.

He was conniving to acquire a Cabinet position: "How'd you like to be a Cabinet member's wife? Mingle with all the other Cabinet members' wives and ambassadors?" She was not interested in the Washington scene and called them all "nerds."

You're not gonna drag me down to that graveyard. I've seen their pictures in the papers, those girlies. A lot of sour-faced frumps with last year's clothes on. Pinning medals on Girl Scouts and pouring tea for the DARs, and rolling Easter eggs on the White House lawn. A swell lot of fun I'd have. You go live in Washington. I can have a good time right here.

He countered back and insisted that she would be forced to move to DC if he received the position: "If I get that appointment to Washington, I'm going. And if I go, you go. That's that." She refused and demanded more respect: "Oh no, I won't! You can't boss me. I can yell just as loud as you can." He grabbed her and demanded that she obey him, but she lashed out:

Who do you think you're talkin' to, that first wife of yours out in Montana?...That poor, mealy-faced thing with a flat chest that didn't have nerve enough to talk up to you? Washin' out your greasy overalls, and cookin' and slavin' in some lousy mining shack? No wonder she died! Well, you can't get me that way - you're not gonna step on my face to get where you wanna go, you big windbag!

He couldn't tolerate the ill-mannered, ex-hatcheck girl's back-talk any longer:

Listen, you little piece of scum, you. I've got a good notion to drop you right back where I picked you up in the checkroom of the Hottentot Club, or wherever the dirty joint was....And then you can go back to that sweet-smelling family of yours, back of the railroad tracks in Passaic. And get this - if that sniveling, money-grubbing, whining old mother of yours comes fooling around my offices anymore, I'm going to give orders to have her thrown down those 60 flights of stairs. So help me!...After I pick you out of the gutter, this is the thanks that I get. Thank you!

Countering her blustering, braggard husband, she called him uncouth and accused him of being mostly disinterested in her - his lack of attention had caused her to have an affair with another man:

Kitty: Thanks for what? Listening to you about what a big guy you just been or you gonna be? Listen. You never sent me a flower in your life. When I want flowers, I gotta go buy 'em. What woman wants to buy theirselves flowers? You never sit and talk to me, or ask me what I've been doin', or how I am, or anything.
Dan: Why don't you get something to do? I ain't stopping you.
Kitty: Hah. You bet you ain't. You think I sit home all day, lookin' at bracelets. Ha! Of all the dumb bunnies. Whaddya think I'm doin' while you're out pullin' your dirty deals? Waitin' for Daddy to come home?
Dan: What are you driving at, you little - ?
Kitty: You think you're the only man I know, ya great, big noise? Well, ya aren't, see? There's somebody that just knowing him has made me realize what a stuffed shirt you are....You don't like that, do you, Mr. Cabinet Member? Somebody else put over a deal.
Dan: You mean to tell me you've been putting it over on me with some other man?
Kitty: Yes, and what are ya gonna do about it, ya big gasbag?
Dan: (He grabbed her) Here, you tell me who it is, or I'll break every bone in your body.
Kitty: You can kill me and I won't. (He threw her on the bed)
Dan: I'll find out who it is.

Dan pressured their maid Tina to divulge who had visited Kitty during his short trip to Washington DC ("Who's been coming to this house?"). He ignorantly bypassed her mention of the physician Dr. Talbot, threw her out after calling her a "dummy," and threatened to divorce Kitty for adultery as a low-class "alley cat":

I'll divorce you. That's what I'll do. I'll divorce you and you won't get one cent. There's a law for what you've done.... I'll track him down. I'll find him, and I'll kill him. That's what I'll do. Then I'll throw you out just like you were an alley cat.

She threatened to deny him his political career aspirations with a threat to expose his unlawful, phony business deals. If he didn't stop his crooked, destructive attacks on so many victims, including Jordan's financially-struggling shipping line business, she would raise a "pretty stink":

Yeah? So you wanna go to Washington. You wanna tell the President where to get off. You wanna go into politics. Well, I know about politics, and I know all about the crooked deals ya bragged about. Stealing from Brown, and that Thompson business, and gypping old man Clarke, and now this Jordan thing. When I tell about those, it'll raise a pretty stink. Politics? You couldn't get into politics. You couldn't get in anywhere. You couldn't even get in the men's room at the Astor!

He called her a "poisonous little rattlesnake," and warned that he would be leaving her after the Ferncliffe dinner: ("You can sit here and get flowers from your soul mate. We're through"). Nonetheless, the socially-ambitious 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" if he didn't cancel it:

Kitty: Oh, no you ain't. Now you're gonna listen to me while I run off at the mouth. You're gonna let that Jordan stock stay right where it is, because if you don't, I'll broadcast the whole rotten deal. And if I open my trap, they can hear me clean back in Montana. It's the first chance I ever got with decent society people, to see my name in the paper with somebody that ain't mixed in your dirty politics. And if I miss it, you're gonna pay for it with everything ya got.
Dan: So you'd make a sucker out of me, huh?
Kitty: Well, I certainly ain't tryin' to make a gentleman out of ya, but I'm gonna be a lady if it kills me.

With an opportunity to blackmail Kitty, the covetous Tina entered her dressing room and threatened to reveal the name of her secret lover (in exchange for one of Kitty's many bejeweled bracelets).

7:00 pm - The Night of the Dinner

Tuxedoed and top-hatted Larry Renault was completely drunk and tipsy, but dressed-up for the dinner ("with his Park Avenue friends"), as the clock struck 7:00 pm. Unexpectedly, his agent Max Kane brought the show's new producer Joe Stengel for a "meeting of two celebrities" to his room. They discussed the possibility of Renault playing the minor beachcomber role in the play. Renault insisted that the part, if he accepted it, would have to be "built up" and expanded. Stengel clarified what the part really was - almost non-existent:

The fellow's got one scene and they find him dead on the beach. This isn't a play about spiritualism.

The ex-revered actor Renault was insulted by the thought of such a "second fiddle" role, since at one time he had earned $8,000 a week. He berated Stengel:

Don't forget, I'm Larry Renault...Now, listen, Stengel. I'm a name, and I know it, and so do you. And I'm not going on and play second fiddle to any cheap English ham. $8,000 a week. That's what I got, and I was gonna get $10,000 till the talkies came in. So don't think you're doin' me a favor by askin' me to play in your ratty little show because I'm doing you one....And just because it's Mr. Joe Stengel, it don't mean a thing to me. I'm still good, better than I ever was.

Stengel was unwilling to even consider a small change in the part and was ready to leave. Renault let loose - uncontrollably: "Now listen to me, old-timer. I'm drunk, and I know I'm drunk, but I know what I'm talkin' about....I wouldn't be in your rotten show. Not Larry Renault. You know why? Because I'm an important artist, and you're nothin' but a cheap pushcart producer. Pushcart!"

After the spiteful Stenger departed, Max was visibly perturbed and denounced Renault for ruining his only chance to perform in the play: "You cockeyed, drunken fool. I bring him up here. I go down on my hands and knees to do it. And you! You! Well, that's that." Renault criticized his agent for being a devious double-dealer with the producers:

You got this play away from Baumann and you gave it to Stengel, you double-dealing chiseler. I've been suspicious of you all along. You're in with the managers. You've been taking my money and workin' for them.

Max defended himself and denied the false claims, stating that the washed-up, fading, silent-era vaudeville performer Renault was the one who owed him $500. Frustrated, Max finally realized it was too late to resurrect Renault's career. He 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":

You don't say. I'm workin' for the managers, huh? Takin' your money. Me? Me that you're into for $500 smackers in touches. You think I've been lyin' to you all the time? All right. You're gonna get the truth now. Renault, you're through....I'll get out and I'll stay out but get this first. I never worked so hard in my life to put anybody over as I did you. You think I told you all the things that I tried? No! Because I couldn't come to ya and tell you what they said. I felt too sorry for ya....Every time I walked into a bookin' office, they leaned back and they roared. They called me 'Mac, the Grave Snatcher.' Last night, I sent another telegram to the Coast. I knew it was no use, but I sent it anyway. You want to see the answer?...'Thank you. When we're in the market for bit players, we will let you know'...I'm just tellin' ya the truth. Ya know, you never were an actor. You did have looks, but they're gone now. You don't have to take my word for it. Just look in any mirror. They don't lie. Take a good look. Look at those pouches under your eyes. Look at those creases. Ya sag like an old woman. Get a load of yourself. Wait till ya start trampin' around at the offices, looking for a job because no agent's going to handle you. Sitting in those anterooms hour after hour, giving your name to office boys that never even heard of ya. You're through, Renault. You're through in pictures and plays and vaudeville and radio and everything. You're a corpse, and you don't know it. Go get yourself buried.

After Max left, Renault stared at himself in a mirror, collapsed, and staggered onto the floor. Bellhop Eddie returned the unbought items to be pawned ("They don't want that junk"), asserting that he took them to every pawnshop on Sixth Avenue. Renault accused him of lying and of being "a filthy little rat," while Eddie called him a "down-and-out ham." Larry begged for a loan to buy some liquor because he was sick, but Eddie refused: "What kind of a sucker do you think I am?...Aw, baloney." The final nail in the coffin occurred when Mr. Fitch (Edwin Maxwell), the hotel manager, apologetically demanded that Renault's suite had to be vacated for some "very old clients" by noon the following day, and that there was no other room for him in the filled-to-capacity hotel.

In deep despair and anguish, Renault sobbed to himself, then locked the door and stuffed material along the bottoms of the two exit doors to seal off the room's suite. He switched off the overhead light, ripped up Paula's photo and dropped the fragments of paper onto the street from the outer window. Then, he donned his monogrammed robe, quietly turned on his gas fireplace, and carefully positioned himself under an adjusted floor lamp to show off his famous profile to best advantage. He slowly succumbed by gassing himself to death.

8:00 pm - At the Dinner

As the 8 o'clock hour approached, last-minute invited guests (at 6:45 pm) included Millicent's cousin Hattie Loomis and her husband Ed, who was unhappy about his obligation to dress up in a tuxedo and meet "a bunch of fatheads I don't want to know, and miss that Greta Garbo picture I've been waiting for, for two months." He also wasn't thrilled about meeting "has-been" actors Larry Renault and Carlotta Vance. Oliver was upstairs with a headache, as Dan and Kitty marched in. She was on his arm and wearing a tight, form-fitting, white satin evening dress and glamorous white fox fur. Ed joked that he and Hattie were 'pinch-hitting' for the Ferncliffes - prompting Millicent to apologize for the English couple's absence. The Lord had allegedly been "taken frightfully ill with nephritis" and whisked off to Florida. Kitty laughed loudly to spite her husband. As they chit-chatted about vacationing in the Florida sun, Kitty said she had to be careful about too much exposure and blistering, and then turned to take a drink - exposing her entire bare backside.

When the Talbots arrived, Dan asked about Kitty's health and was told she was getting better and didn't need any further house calls - she disagreed: "I get along better when you're looking after me." Carlotta arrived with her pekingese Tarzan in her arms, and embarrassingly divulged the real truth about the Ferncliffe's retreat to Florida, learned via telegram: "Off on a fishing trip. Love your America. Never felt better in my life. Caroline and I want you to join us. Wire Palm Beach. Bunny." In the library, Paula and Ernest were discussing their impending wedding as Carlotta barged in, calling them "two turtledoves." In private with Paula, she revealed she had seen Paula down the hall on the 8th floor visiting Larry Renault, and suspected her affair. Paula admitted she wasn't "ashamed," but then begged for Carlotta's advice and help in speaking to her father, to break her engagement with Ernest. Paula was headstrong and firm in her belief that she could do whatever she wanted without family interference:

You want me to give him up. I won't. You're just like all the rest of the old people....You think you know what's best because you're old. You think you can tell me what to do with my life. Well, you can't, because it's my life. I'm young. I've got a right to go to the man I love.

The next revelation would change everything. Carlotta told Paula of Renault's sudden demise - and added: "Listen, Paula. I realize that I'm an old woman and young people have a right to do what they want, but at this time I think you should consider someone else, your father." Paula was unaware of her father's failing health and business. Carlotta spoke about the finality of death: "And nothing can be done. That's the unfortunate thing about death. It's so terribly final. Even the young can't do anything about it." Carlotta counseled Paula to never let Ernest know about her past affair with Renault: "'Cause if there's one thing I know, it's men. I ought to. It's been my life's work."

Dr. Talbot and Millicent were alerted by Dora to Oliver's condition, and visited him upstairs. In the adjoining bathroom, Dr. Talbot revealed the seriousness of Oliver's condition to Millicent and she was weeping. She vowed to Oliver that she would become a better and more attentive wife by being less selfish:

I've been too busy to notice while you've been suffering. Oh Oliver, I do love you, and I've always loved you even though I have turned into a silly, stupid, useless wife.

He responded that the most troubling thing wasn't his health, but the impending loss of his Jordan Line and possible bankruptcy. She maintained a cheerful demeanor and began thinking of ways to "economize":

But everybody's broke, darling. Don't let that worry you. We'll economize. That's what we'll do. We'll economize. Now, let me see. I really don't have to take a box for that charity thing Saturday night now, you know, for backward orphans or something. And I'll cancel my hairdresser's tomorrow. You leave everything to me. And with Paula married to Ernest, we'll take a smaller place somewhere.

She promptly phoned to cancel the reservation for a table at the Embassy Club following the show, and exclaimed: "We're gonna be happier than ever." Once everyone was assembled downstairs for dinner (to be announced in moments), Kitty pressured Dan to speak with Oliver - and added a threat: "If you don't, you'll be sorry as long as you live." She kicked his ankle, and he returned a kick to her rear-end, prompting and prodding Dan to promise to end business take-over threats to acquire Oliver's shipping business, via a dummy name (Baldridge). Packard reassured Oliver:

You came near losing the Jordan Lines this afternoon....A dirty crook by the name of Baldridge tried to pull a fast one...yes, but I saved it for ya. We headed him off.

The well-known closing lines of the film were set up as Carlotta and Kitty were on their way into dinner, promptly served at eight, behind the rest of the guests. Kitty mentioned reading a book [a reference, presumably, to the popular novel of the day, Aldous Huxley's 1932 Brave New World]:

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, breasts and shapely physical charms): Oh, my dear, that's something you need never worry about.

The last actual line was Carlotta's loudly-announced seating request before the dining room's double doors closed:

Say, I want to sit next to Oliver! Oliver, where are you?

Previous Page