Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942). Director: William Keighley.

Why are you standing there like the kiss of death?"

The irascible man of letters Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) breaks his hip while attempting to enter a home for a dinner engagement in Mesalia, Ohio, settles into the library, and stays for weeks, interfering in everybody's lives. This is my second favorite comedy of all time (after A Night at the Opera). Each time I see the picture I realize that there's a quip or joke that got past me on previous viewings. This is a wonderful film version of the Kaufman and Hart play, with superior performances by everyone involved. Woolley makes the most of his acerbic part, and is also completely convincing during his occasional forays into sentimentality. While Bette Davis is a bit mannered, she never over-shadows Woolley (which probably wouldn't have been an easy feat even for her). Ann Sheridan really scores and is very funny as the affected movie star Lorraine Sheldon. Jimmy Durante is great just playing himself, more or less. [He refers to Sheldon as the "umphh" girl; Sheridan was known as the "oomph girl." For one of her dramatic turns, see Nora Prentiss.] George Barbier makes the most of his role as the somewhat vague Dr. Bradley, who's written a lengthy memoir of his life as a doctor. And let's not forget the great Mary Wickes as Miss Preen, the poor put-upon nurse hired to look after Whiteside. Grant Mitchell has perhaps the defining role of his career as Whiteside's unwilling and horrified host Mr. Stanley. [There's also nice work by Reginald Gardner, Billie Burke, and others.] Richard Travis may not have been much of an actor but he has a certain naive quality that fits his character, although one can't imagine "Bert Jefferson" having the intelligence to write a great play "perfect for Cornell." [Travis later wound up in stuff like Missile to the Moon.] One could argue that the whole "Lizzie Bordon" business at the end is a bit tasteless, even cruel, if you take it too seriously. Otherwise this is a consistently entertaining and highly amusing motion picture.

Verdict: A Great Old Movie indeed. ****.


David K. said...

I agree. I have to watch it at least once a year. Monty Woolley really shines and keeps the one liners coming. One of my favorites!

William said...

Believe it or not there are people who have never seen the movie, so I always lend them a copy. Really a terrific picture!

Ares Vista said...

This movie is so very clever! I also find something new each time I watch this film. Thanks for sharing, hopefully more people will find inspiration from this great movie!

William said...

I hope it inspires today's screenwriters to come up with something genuinely hilarious and clever, with great dialogue to boot.

Thanks for your comment.