Friday, March 18, 2016

DINNER AT EIGHT (MGM 1933) Warner Home Video

MGM, the studio with "more stars than there are in heaven", recently proven by putting six of its top talents in a single picture (producer, Irving Thalberg’s audaciously lavish, Grand Hotel, 1932 and directed by Edmund Goulding) were off and running with a new formula for making pictures. Conventional wisdom up until Grand Hotel had dictated the parceling off of stars – one or maybe two per picture. But in his ingenious mania of creativity, and, to celebrate Metro’s formidable assets, Thalberg had thrown everything he had into Grand Hotel; the gamble paying off handsomely. Thalberg and his boss, Louis B. Mayer differed on how to make pictures; Mayer desiring a quota of 52 movies per annum, while Thalberg suggested more heavy investments on fewer projects, imbued with exceptional scope and quality – pictures so good and so far above the status quo that audiences would be compelled to see them. For a while, Mayer remained bitterly silent, secretly hoping Thalberg would fall flat on his face, thus proving Mayer’s point of view and giving him carte blanche to reign in Thalberg’s extravagances. However, Thalberg possessed a rather uncanny knack for picking winners. Within a relative short period he had built a reputation within the industry as an untouchable force of nature – odd, too, since, in life, Thalberg was quiet, introspective and physically, unprepossessing; the antithesis of what author and playwright, Vicki Baum had once dubbed him, as ‘the little dynamo’
A clean sweep at the Oscars, in hindsight, Grand Hotel is the film that launched a new kind of opulence; imitators, mostly, with the exception of producer, David O. Selznick’s Dinner At Eight (1933), directed by George Cukor. Interestingly, both movies are producer, rather than director, driven, designed to show off the studio’s preeminence in the art of star-making; L.B. Mayer’s edict to his talent scouts – “find me a personality…I can make a star” – a testament to this sort of manufactured glamour, never again to be rivaled. David Selznick had come to MGM after stints at RKO and Paramount, the very last stop on his way to becoming Hollywood’s first independent producer. In truth, Selznick never quite fit ‘the system’. Despite having wed Mayer’s daughter, Irene – a marriage paving the way for the barb ‘the son-in-law also rises’, Selznick’s greatest ambition apart from Mayer was to sit in his chair, calling the shots and making the sorts of pictures he wanted to without any outside intervention. Selznick had guts and greatness coursing through his veins, repeatedly proving he could do marketable pictures; Dinner at Eight being a prime example. In some ways, Selznick was out to prove it wasn’t only Thalberg who could helm a six-star smash hit; the proof in Selznick’s personal investment to reshape this George S. Kaufman/Edna Ferber stage hit into another star-studded showcase, devoted mostly to his own peerless level of showmanship.
In retrospect, Dinner at Eight is exactly the right movie for the right moment – an elegantly mounted cliché of the hoi poloi, rife to be made absurd as they dine on their fine Finnan Haddie, but especially at the height of the Great Depression – already perceived as the oxymoron(s) of their generation; proof positive for the impoverished masses, the country was going to the dogs, mismanaged by this silly sect of saucy and slick simpletons, made soft in body, mind and spirit by luxuries as gauche at best to a nation struggling to keep body and soul together. And Dinner at Eight does not disappoint on this score; culling together five of Metro’s most distinguished names, and, fattening out the roster with at least eight more heavy weights who promised, though never quite achieve the same level of ‘star status’. Of the heavy hitters, the picture belongs mostly to Jean Harlow; that sassy platinum Venus, then barely twenty-two and tragically, with only another four years left to live. By 1933, Harlow had made a career of playing déclassé dames and bawdy broads with a stinger of innocence muffled under her bee-stung lips and arched, penciled-in brows; her persona soon to be reshaped – or rather, refrained – at the insistence of Hollywood’s self-governing code of censorship. Had she lived, Harlow would have inevitably been forced to endure a ‘cooling’ off of her white hot and searing public persona as the tart. In life, Harlow was hardly that; a self-professed ‘homebody’ who enjoyed sitting on the lap of her father in-between takes, and whose most risqué behavior then is rumored to have slept in the raw – alone. Herein, Harlow is cast as Kitty Packard, a barroom floozy, since latched onto boorish sugar daddy, Dan (Wallace Beery).
Sporting an immaculate and frilly ensemble of elegant gowns and nighties, created with adoring perfection by Metro’s resident couturier, Adrian, Harlow is enigmatic as the lowborn Kitty, matching her husband’s brutish verbosity tit for tat, calling him out on his weakness for hard-working women he can exploit, but having a soft spot – alas, in the back of his head (as Dan lacks any understanding he might possess a real human heart) for flashy young things like Kitty whom he can bounce on his knee. Kitty was once starry-eyed and fresh-faced. Now, she’s steely-eyed and quite simply fresh, not above telling her man what’s what with her charming lack of culture; yet, reserving her most amusing lines for retired Broadway legend, Carlotta Vance (the wickedly funny, Marie Dressler), “I was reading a book the other day…a nutty kind of a book. Do you know the man in it says machinery is going to take the place of every profession today?” Harlow’s Kitty innocently explains, to which Dressler’s piss-elegant old beef astutely eyes her up and down, casually replying, “Oh my dear, that’s one thing you need never worry about!”  
The moment, captured in a medium travelling shot, is arguably the highlight of the picture; the result of Selznick’s last minute tinkering and conviction his movie needed a lighter moment to cap off what is essentially a very dark and disturbing prediction for the future. It should be pointed out that virtually all of the protagonists in Dinner at Eight are cynical sad sacks of one sort or another; drunk on power, disillusioned by life, challenged by fate, embittered through time, and, sorely lacking in virtually any scruples beyond the best that money can buy. The most resourceful of this enterprising lot is Kitty Packard, perhaps because Harlow – like her character – straddles this chasm between frivolous wealth and no-nonsense ferocity. Relying on screenwriter, Donald Ogden Stewart; Marie Dressler remains the perfect counterpoint to Harlow’s naïvely rancid vixen. In life, Dressler, a one-time Vaudevillian, reduced to cleaning houses for a living when MGM’s Irving Thalberg elected to give her a second career, would tower over almost all of Metro’s most marketable assets – on par with the likes of such luminous creations as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. Audiences were immediately drawn to her weather-beaten charm and careworn views on life in general – and, at least in Dinner at Eight, society expressly; Dressler’s ability to morph from highborn matrons to dowdy drunkards, and everything in between, earning her a top place amongst MGM’s most cherished and fondly recalled icons from the 1930’s.
As Thalberg had done in Grand Hotel, Selznick could not resist the urge to cast Lionel and John Barrymore in Dinner at Eight; the Barrymores, Hollywood royalty and legends of the theater besides. Lionel is shipping magnet, Oliver Jordan; suffering the slings and arrows of a declining economy and likely to lose control of the once-prosperous business built by his late father from scratch. Oliver and Carlotta are old friends, each confessing how hard their seemingly Teflon-coated lives have been hit by the Depression; both, unlikely to survive the crippling deluge yet to follow. After all, neither is a spring chicken. But Oliver’s life is complicated further by his marriage to daffy society matron, Millicent (Billie Burke), narrow-mindedly immersed in her fastidious plans to pull off an elegant soirée, and, whose greatest concern is that the aspic will melt before dinner is over. Also in attendance are the aging has-been actor, Larry Renault (John Barrymore), Kitty and Dan, Carlotta, Oliver’s personal physician, Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) and his wife, Lucy (Karen Morley). The wrinkle, soon to be exposed, is that some of these seemingly unrelated party guests already know one another much too well; Wayne realizing Oliver is gravely ill; Kitty, having an extramarital affair with Wayne, and Larry, caught in a May/December romance, desperately pursued by the Jordan’s impetuous daughter, Paula (Madge Evans).  Larry thinks he can make it work, if only he can regain something of the reputation he once had as a distinguished star of stage and screen.
Alas, Larry’s own worst enemy is his ego – topped only by the malicious pride of his one-time agent, Max Kane (Lee Tracy), who instructs him to take a good hard look in the mirror at what he has become. “You sag like an old woman!” In some ways, Dinner at Eight is rather cruel to John Barrymore’s reputation; once considered, ‘the great profile’ but largely taken on by MGM for the cache of his name alone; succumbing to fits of depression, teeter-tottered with bouts of hellish alcoholism that did much to wreck his good looks and reputation as a leading man. Barrymore isn’t quite so far gone to seed in Dinner at Eight, and yet his reincarnation as Larry Renault invites parallels between art and life; particularly in the moment where he performs a most un-glamorous middle-aged and self-pitying sprawl, tripping on a stool in his fashionable penthouse before turning on the gas jets in his fireplace to commit suicide. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Unlike his alter ego, Barrymore would continue to stagger through life and the movies for another seven years; his subsequent roles elevating this self-parody. Only in hindsight does he veer into grotesqueness and caricature; painful revelations of a more self-destructive nature. In Dinner at Eight, Barrymore gives us a terribly tragic glimpse into his own future forecast; Renault, blowing every opportunity to regain a bit of his own back professionally, but nobly sacrificing his last great chance at ever-lasting happiness by giving up the woman who adores him; freed in death from the tyranny of his own appalling downward spiral.
From top to bottom, Dinner at Eight is an A-list production – a Selznick picture, despite being made at MGM and by no less an éminence grise than George Cukor. The picture is imbued with Metro’s superficial sheen and verve for surface glamour audiences of the thirties simply could not resist. But it also retains an air of distinct sophistication; a hallmark of Cukor’s urbane early masterpieces, and apart from Selznick’s chronic tinkering. “I did Dinner at Eight in twenty-eight days,” Cukor would later muse, “It’s haunted me my entire career. People say, ‘Well…if you can do all that so quickly…’ I suppose it all went so smoothly because of all those expert actors. George Kaufman was quite an astringent writer…not terribly profound, but with the saving grace of being very funny…and Harlow…was suddenly marvelous in comedy; tough and yet feminine – like Mae West, wise-crackers, but vulnerable. It made them attractive. There was something quite soft about Harlow’s toughness. (Dressler) was the biggest star of her time in low comedy…she knew how to make an entrance with great aplomb – great effect. And Jack…although he was playing a second-rate actor, he had absolutely no vanity as such and even put things in to make himself hammier, more ignorant. I’ve always found that if first-rate actors respect you, they’ll try anything.
During filming, cast and crew were treated to a much publicized visit by noted playwright, George Bernard Shaw – who remained mildly amused and equally as fascinated by the craft of film-making; a ploy to promote Dinner at Eight, orchestrated to perfection by MGM publicity man, Barrett Kiesling. Another of Kiesling’s coups was in securing a now famous endorsement, showing the entire cast, decked out in their finery, together with George Cukor, enjoying Coca-Cola in between takes; a means, not only to sell the picture, but advance Coke’s stature as the beverage of choice among the moneyed sect as “a way to snap back to normal and be alert.” With an unusually short shooting schedule (Cukor had the whole affair wrapped up and in the can in only 28 days), Dinner at Eight was one of MGM’s cheapest all-star movies to make; coming in at barely $387,000. At the picture’s August premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Selznick could barely contain his enthusiasm as he gloated, “We have, I think, achieved the ideal of Cavalcade, one of the finest pictures ever made…in that Dinner at Eight is adult, intelligent, and, at the same time, has an extremely wide mass and down to earth appeal!”  Indeed, audiences and critics were almost unanimous in their praise, embracing Selznick’s three course meal as a soap-opera-ish feast of lavishly appointed escapism. $3 million dollars later, and Mayer was adjusting himself to the fact he now had two great producers under his wing; Thalberg, already his VP in Charge of Production, and Selznick, who would not be as contented to merely remain a subsidiary unit under Thalberg’s scrutiny within the studio’s hierarchy.
Interestingly, Thalberg, who had been convalescing from a mild heart attack, bore Selznick no earthly malice upon his return to the studio – unlike a good many of Mayer’s other – lesser –producers, who had allowed their loyalty to Thalberg to muddle their thinking. Viewed from their vantage as Thalberg’s ‘replacement’, Selznick entered the lion’s den with a burgeoning animosity directed squarely at him; baited by this brain trust with incessant criticisms and a general contempt for what was then perceived as Mayer’s rather transparent nepotism. In truth, the executives had more of a beef with Mayer than Selznick – although, they likely took their cue from the old adage about never biting the hand that feeds. Nevertheless, Selznick was viewed as the interloper at MGM; a very low opinion that would remain subliminally steadfast and weigh heavily upon Selznick’s confidence until the premiere of Dinner at Eight.  The picture’s irrefutable success added stature to Selznick’s reputation on the back lot, now begrudgingly viewed with an uneasy respect. Selznick, like Thalberg, seemed to have his finger on the pulse of the public. Aware what Selznick had gone through in his absence, Thalberg now arranged a quiet ‘social’ meeting in his office – a chance for the two to get to know one another – after which Thalberg went out of his way to promote and stand behind Selznick’s other pending projects; a professional courtesy backed by Thalberg’s genuine empathy and appreciation for Selznick’s creative talents.
Immediately following a positively ‘delicious’ main title sequence, in which each of the leading players is given their moment, reflected in an elegant place setting, we meet the Jordans; slightly careworn and exhausted Oliver and his addlepated and nattering wife, Millicent, who has decided to give an elegant party in honor of visiting dignitaries, Lord and Lady Ferncliff. Oliver finds such social gatherings a bore. But his mood is considerably improved when Millicent informs him that against her better judgement she has decided to invite Carlotta Vance to the party; a relic of the stage, well past her prime. Oliver is slightly concerned over his daughter, Paula’s mildly despondent behavior, all but ignored by her mother.  The news is even more grim at the office; Oliver, informing his ever-devoted secretary, Miss Copeland (Elizabeth Patterson) and his managing accountant, Mr. Stengel (Jean Hersholt) the steamer, Castilian has not enough cargo aboard it to make the transatlantic crossing viable. This direness is diluted by an unexpected visit from Carlotta; a breath of fresh air from the Delmonico period both she and Oliver remember all too well, or perhaps continue to admire through rose-colored glasses. Oliver quickly discovers Carlotta has fallen on hard times; asked to explain her six fur coats to U.S. Customs and struggling to gain control over her liquid assets; oil, railroads, cotton, etc. But beyond these, she is all but penniless and miserable, thanks to an extravagant lifestyle that has bankrupted her.  
Miss Copeland attempts to ingratiate herself to Carlotta, but instead ruffles the old bird’s feathers by suggesting she was only a little girl when she first saw Carlotta on the stage. “How extraordinary,” Carlotta replies with a stern glare, “You and I must have a talk someday…about the Civil War!” To ease her financial burdens, Carlotta proposes to Oliver she sell her Jordan stock back to him; a move he wishes she would not consider just now, particularly as something is in the wind – perhaps, even a hostile corporate takeover.  To stave off the sharks already smelling blood in the water, Oliver has invited Dan Packard for a little businessmen’s tête-à-tête. Dan has parlayed a miner’s pay into one of the most successful strikes in the nation and long since diversified his business holdings as one of the richest men in America. Alas, money has been unable to wipe clean the palette of uncouth, boorish and bullying tactics Dan has used to get along in the world, acquiring people and places like things to be bent in service to his beckoned call.  Presumably to help Oliver out, Dan instructs him to get together a portfolio of the company’s assets to present to his board with the possible caveat of extending the Jordan line a line of credit to temporarily see them through the Depression. Meanwhile, Millicent keeps her cousin, Hattie Loomis (Louise Closser Hale) and her husband, Ed (Grant Mitchell) at bay; poor relations she has little use for; a mutual feeling to be sure.
Millicent begins to telephone her invitations; starting with the most unpleasant of the lot – Kitty Packard; Dan’s second trophy wife, grown impatient of the good life besides. Kitty feigns culture; a raucous mix of piss-elegance and Brooklyn spank that leaves even her bad-mannered and cigarette smoking lady’s maid, Tina (Hilda Vaughn) stifled. Kitty cannot wait to attend Millicent’s dinner party. At first, Dan resists. After all, his intentions toward Oliver are nothing less than dishonorable – plotting to take over the Jordan line by buying up controlling stock using a bunch of dummy corporations to keep his name out of it until Oliver has sunk everything and lost the shirt off his back. But when Kitty explains the party is being given in Lord and Lady Ferncliff’s honor, Dan jumps at the opportunity. After all, he has been trying to meet the richest man in England for nearly two years, but to no avail. Departing for Washington with renewed vigor, Dan remains unaware Kitty is having an affair with her physician, Dr. Wayne Talbot, who pays a house call after Kitty fakes illness. Even before he has entered the room, Talbot is regretting this visit. After all, he cannot help but see how this extramarital affair has cost him plenty – a personal sacrifice, to start, as his own wife Lucy is, as ever, utterly devoted to him. Kitty’s overtures of love are overheard by Tina who, afterward, successfully bribes Kitty with keeping her secret for the price of a diamond bracelet – arguably, only the first bauble to fall prey to Tina’s greed.
Returning to his office, Dr. Talbot is forced to take another ‘emergency’ phone call from Kitty. Believing he is in the comfort of his private office, Wayne speaks plainly to Kitty as lovers do, suddenly becoming aware his own wife, Lucy, has slipped into the room unnoticed. He attempts to do damage control but it’s no use. Lucy quietly confides she has been aware of his raging infidelities for quite some time; having kept secret the first affair that nearly tore her to pieces inside, Lucy has since found it less painful to suffer through Wayne’s various indiscretions, including Kitty, whom she regards as just another passing fancy. Karen Morely’s acting in this moment is quite remarkable; something deeply heartfelt and caught in the faraway ‘lost’ look she gives the camera; a woman scorned, yet quite unable to purge herself of the love barrier still very much chaining her emotional happiness to this man who would deign step upon her good graces at every possible chance, idiotically believing he has gotten away with anything and everything to satisfy his own shameless sexual appetites. She sincerely wounds him without perhaps even knowing how much; his embarrassment translated into a sort of apropos contrition, doomed not to last.
Not long thereafter, Dr. Talbot informs Oliver Jordan he is gravely ill and will likely die. The news is not nearly as devastating as Talbot had supposed; Oliver intuitively knowing the end is near. Nevertheless, he is staunchly determined to keep his undisclosed illness a secret from his wife – as though, in her present micromanagement of the dinner party she would even presume to care what is happening to her husband. In the meantime, we meet Larry Renault – a has-been one-time big Broadway star attempting his great comeback with the help of agent, Max Kane. Kane tries to soften the latest blow; the backers who planned to star Larry in a theatrical show have since taken their money elsewhere. Kane informs Larry it isn’t the end. After all, he has managed to get Larry an interview with two new backers. But this opportunity Larry badly bungles when he learns how small the part is, incurring Kane’s rage. Kane is cruel in his admonishments, realistically telling his client, “You sag like an old women. Just wait till you start peddling yourself around to office boys who’ve never even heard of you. You’re a corpse and you don’t even know it. Go and get yourself buried.” Earlier, Larry had accepted Millicent’s invitation to dine; the family unknowing Paula has been carrying on a notorious affair with Larry, despite the fact she is engaged to a nice boy, Ernest (whom we never see) and flying in the face of all decency as Larry is still married to his third wife, whom he has cheated on numerous times. But now, Larry cannot help but see the end of his days and lifestyle fast approaching. Without Kane he will never make a comeback. It’s over. And without Paula’s love he can never be a real man. Alas, Paula is too good for him and this even Larry recognizes – to his own detriment as he prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve her dignity and put a period to all his self-loathing and degradations.
Not surprisingly, Cukor has based his cinematic oeuvre on the rigidly structured Broadway show; things reaching a fevered crescendo in act three as, after having established all of his main characters and their perplexed lives, Cukor now tightens the yoke on at least some of these meandering variables to bring about the penultimate tragedy – Larry’s suicide. Carlotta spies Paula leaving Larry Renault’s suite and puts two and two together. Promising to meet Paula at her parents for dinner at eight, Larry instead satisfies his yen for stiff drink, dons his best robe and prepares to end his life by igniting the gas jets in his fireplace. At the last possible moment, he takes a tumble on a misplaced stool, crawling with whimpering despair to a nearby easy chair into which he pathetically slumps, succumbing to the fumes at last. News of his death reaches Paula as the party guests begins to assemble. Millicent is unresponsive, but Paula is understandably inconsolable. Only Carlotta sees through her pain, pulling Paula aside to learn the true depth of her lost affections for Larry Renault; encouraging Paula to keep these closely guarded. She must forget Larry, as confessing their affair now would only wound her mother and father and create a desperate family scandal. Best to reconsider the pain, and instead focus on the young man who otherwise might have squired her heart – Ernest, whom Millicent and Oliver expect Paula to marry anyway.
Alas, Millicent’s grand party coup is all for not – the Ferncliffs having elected to go to Florida instead – a social snub for which the frantic Millicent almost suffers a nervous breakdown. At the Packard homestead, Dan discovers Kitty has been unfaithful to him. Although he has yet to learn the identity of her seducer, Dan vows to divorce Kitty at once. But now Kitty plays her trump card; threatening Dan with exposure of his dishonorable business practices; his sly corporate flimflams that have made him a very rich man but subsequently destroyed the lives of some honest businessmen along the way. Divorce Kitty? Not without burning his own carefully constructed bridges into the political arena. No, Dan will have to endure Kitty a while long – perhaps indefinitely – if he so desires to step up his game in Washington as the President’s most trusted advisor. As a last ditch replacement couple for the party, Millicent invites Hattie and Ed as substitutes for the Ferncliffs, thereby foiling Dan Packard’s whole purpose for attending. While preparing for dinner, Oliver suffers yet another collapse. Dr. Talbot informs Millicent of her husband’s serious condition and, at last, she is shaken from her insular complacency, taking charge of more prescient matters and placing Oliver’s care at the forefront as her only concern. Oliver agrees to carry on with the party. Dan Packard lies to him about one of his colleagues, Baldridge, having made a sneaky stab to take over the Jordan line. As per Kitty’s conditions for keeping her mouth shut about her husband’s spurious business practices, Dan promises to save Oliver’s company, rather than buy it up lock, stock and barrel. As the guests file into the dining room, Kitty confides in Carlotta the business about machinery taking the place of every profession today, allowing Carlotta the very last word, “My dear, that’s one thing you need never worry about!”
Dinner at Eight is a tautly scripted, slightly wordy tragi-comedy with A-list production values and an even more absorbing cast of Metro’s best players to pull it off without a hitch. Cukor’s direction is mostly satisfying; although his periodic usage of split screen dissolves to illustrate action taking place simultaneously in two different locations seems strained at best. The central performances still hold up remarkably well – particularly, Jean Harlow, Lionel and John Barrymore, and, Marie Dressler. To a lesser extent, Billie Burke proves her mettle, especially in the final reels as she suffers through a miraculous transformation from scatterbrained socialite, arguably, the movie’s whacky figure of fun, into a suddenly – and equally as convincing – spouse, devoted to her ailing husband’s care. In retrospect, one can see why Madge Evans and Edmund Lowe were quick to disappear from Metro’s top-tier roster shortly after the release of Dinner at Eight. Alas, Lee Tracy’s fall from grace had more to do with his ego than his talent. But Lowe and Evans really are a second rate coupling, compared to the aforementioned glitterati. They never rise above a sort of homogenized mediocrity for which no amount of studio training or glamour can cure.  At its most delightfully obtuse and/or heartrending moments, Dinner at Eight remains an effervescent bauble from Hollywood’s golden age; a blistering example of the sort of highly polished and expertly executed glam-bam the dream factories made en masse, and, seemingly without even an afterthought, though undeniably, with a great deal of effort put forth by all involved. In hindsight, L.B. Mayer’s insistence on finding ‘personalities’ he could mold into rarefied creations of the silver screen was a very sound logic. Mayer’s MGM set an industry standard for many good years yet to follow.
No one can ‘make’ a star today – the process by which a diamond in the rough ascends beyond and into the surreal bonds of a life apart from we mere mortals to become a ‘presence’ and yes, even a legend in their own time, impossible to achieve in our present age and our ravenous thirst for instant – if pre-processed – celebrities; infinitely more famous (and, in some cases, infamous) for their private lives than any piece of acting committed to the screen.  Dinner at Eight reminds us of that other time and otherworldly realm devoted to the bona fide movie star – a creation not to be discovered in nature, but carefully crafted and exploited for the sole purpose of bringing joy and beauty into the world. In some ways, I would have this time again. It says a great deal about film - any film - as art that movies like Dinner at Eight continue to resonate and appeal to audiences, despite changing tastes and times. Nostalgia is one thing. But Dinner at Eight is not about reliving or reviving an era as much as it manages to cling, linger and reincarnate a timeless passion for movies as art – commercially viable, slickly packaged and marvelously cast – but ultimately, more art than commerce and likely to remain untainted in perpetuity as all great works of art do – both timely and timeless.
Were that the denizens at Warner Home Video had come around to giving us a Blu-ray of Dinner at Eight by now. But no – we are still behind the times and the eight ball with this tepid DVD. It’s passable as far as DVD mastering goes – at least, to a point – lacking more solid contrast and a general dismissal of indigenous film grain, looking slightly homogenized and therefore, depriving us of the vibrant and satiny sheen of the silver screen image.  I am sincerely going to petition the Warner Archive to get busy on a Blu-ray of this golden oldie. It certainly needs and deserves no less consideration. Ah, but what’s here? Well, a B&W image with a competently rendered, though unremarkable grey scale; a lot of it falling somewhere into mid-register tonality. Age-related artifacts are present but have been mostly cleaned up. If Dinner at Eight ever makes the leap to hi-def I cannot imagine a lot of restoration work required to spiffy it up in 1080p. The Dolby Digital mono audio has been cleaned up but continues to exhibit a fairly noticeable background hiss. Oh well, there is only so much to be done within the limitations of original Westrex sound recording. Extras include a bio on Harlow hosted Sharon Stone. It’s frankly brief and not terribly inspiring, more of a travelogue through Harlow’s career without any real depth or substance about the woman herself. We also get a short subject: Come to Dinner and the original trailer. Bottom line: until a Blu-ray comes along, this one gets recommended for content mostly. The transfer is okay but would greatly benefit from a new hi-def scan. We’ll see.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)


No comments: