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The Man Who Came to Dinner(1942)

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teaser The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

SYNOPSIS

Celebrated cosmopolitan wit and radio personality Sheridan Whiteside is in the midst of a cross-country lecturing tour when he stops in the small town of Mesalia, Ohio. His long-suffering secretary Maggie has arranged for him to be the dinner guest of the Stanleys, a prominent local family. Whiteside, a snob of the highest order, turns his nose up at the idea but shows up out of obligation. When Whiteside slips and falls on the Stanleys' icy stairs, he is forced to spend his long recuperation time as a guest in their home. With Whiteside threatening to sue them, the Stanleys bend over backwards to make his stay comfortable, but the prickly Whiteside soon becomes the guest from hell. Barking orders at everyone in sight, receiving questionable visitors, running up huge phone bills and hurling insults at anyone within earshot, Whiteside wreaks havoc on the entire household with hilarious results.

Director: William Keighley
Producer: Sam H. Harris, Hal B. Wallis (Executive Producer), Jack Saper (Associate Producer), Jerry Wald (Associate Producer)
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein
Based on the play The Man Who Came to Dinner by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Editing: Jack Killifer
Music Composer: Leo F. Forbstein, Frederick Hollander
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly
Art Direction: Robert Haas
Cast: Bette Davis (Maggie Cutler), Ann Sheridan (Lorraine Sheldon), Monty Woolley (Sheridan Whiteside), Richard Travis (Bert Jefferson), Jimmy Durante (Banjo), Billie Burke (Daisy Stanley), Reginald Gardiner (Beverly Carlton), Elisabeth Fraser (June Stanley), Grant Mitchell (Ernest Stanley), George Barbier (Dr. Bradley), Mary Wickes (Miss Preen), Russell Arms (Richard Stanley), Ruth Vivian (Harriet Stanley), Edwin Stanley (John), Betty Roadman (Sarah), Charles Drake (Sandy), Nanette Vallon (Cosette), John Ridgely (Radio Man).
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Why THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER is Essential

Based on the stage play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, The Man Who Came to Dinner is simply one of the funniest film comedies of all time. Rich with witty tongue-twisting dialogue and sharp zingers, the script is laugh-out-loud funny in all its delicious nastiness.

Real-life critic, lecturer and wit Alexander Woollcott served as the inspiration for the outrageous character of Sheridan Whiteside. The film, along with the successful stage versions, helped solidify Woollcott in the American consciousness and added to his legacy as a celebrity.

In addition to Alexander Woollcott, Kaufman and Hart also slyly based several other characters in The Man Who Came to Dinner on their prominent friends. For instance, the character of Beverly Carlton (Reginald Gardiner) was based on playwright Noel Coward and Banjo (Jimmy Durante) was based on Harpo Marx.

The Man Who Came to Dinner features Bette Davis in one of her very rare appearances in a comedy. Davis, long associated with heavy, dramatic roles loved the light-hearted play and thought that playing Maggie would be a refreshing change of pace for her. It was also unusual for Davis, a big star at the time, to take a second-fiddle role in an ensemble cast, but Davis knew a good story when she saw it, and wanted to be a part of such a well-written piece.

The lead actor Monty Woolley was not a well known name when he starred as Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner and almost didn't get the part because of it. His hilarious performance is key to the film's success and in itself makes the film worth watching as he holds his own against the likes of Bette Davis.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

The character of Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner was based on the famed writer/critic/radio personality Alexander Woollcott.

The Man Who Came to Dinner was originally a play written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The original Broadway production opened October 16, 1939 and starred Monty Woolley as Sheridan Whiteside. It ran for 739 performances and Monty Woolley went on to reprise his role in the film version.

There was a Broadway revival of the play The Man Who Came to Dinner in 1980. It starred Ellis Rabb as Whiteside. It ran for 85 performances.

A second Broadway revival was mounted in 2000 with Nathan Lane in the role of Sheridan Whiteside. It also starred Jean Smart as the saucy actress Lorraine. The production was broadcast by PBS on October 7, 2000, three days after the New York production closed, and was released on DVD.

In 1949, The Man Who Came to Dinner was produced for CBS Radio for The Hotpoint Holiday Hour. The production starred Charles Boyer, Jack Benny, Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and Rosalind Russell.

The play and subsequent film served as the basis for the 1967 musical Sherry!, with a book and lyrics by James Lipton (of Inside the Actors Studio fame) and music by Laurence Rosenthal. It ran for 72 performances.

A Hallmark Hall of Fame production was broadcast by NBC on November 29, 1972. It starred Orson Welles as Sheridan Whiteside, Lee Remick as Maggie, Joan Collins as Lorraine and Marty Feldman as Banjo.

Clifton Webb and Lucille Ball starred in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the play on March 27, 1950.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

The real-life person on whom the character of Sheridan Whiteside was based, Alexander Woollcott, actually played the role himself in a touring company of the play in 1940.

Harpo Marx was the model for the character of Banjo.

Harpo Marx played the role of Banjo himself in a 1941 stage production at the Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania.

The character of Beverly Carlton was based on Noel Coward.

Among the actors considered to play the role of Sheridan Whiteside in the film were John Barrymore, Orson Welles, Charles Laughton, Fredric March, Robert Benchley and Cary Grant.

Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, Jean Arthur and Olivia de Havilland were considered to play the role of Maggie.

At one time Howard Hawks was interested in directing The Man Who Came to Dinner.

The play The Man Who Came to Dinner was considered to be the last great collaboration between the team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

The star of The Man Who Came to Dinner, Monty Woolley, was once a drama teacher at Yale University.

Bette Davis desperately wanted John Barrymore to play Sheridan Whiteside, but Barrymore's drinking problem prevented him from being able to handle the film's complicated dialogue.

Monty Woolley almost didn't get to play Sheridan Whiteside in the film, even though he had originated the role on Broadway. Producers didn't feel he was well-known enough to star in a film.

A dog bite to the nose kept Bette Davis from being able to film scenes in The Man Who Came to Dinner for several weeks.

The character of Lorraine was reportedly based on actress Gertrude Lawrence.

Mary Wickes, who plays Miss Preen, and Ruth Vivian, who plays the batty Harriet, were the only two people besides Monty Woolley who reprised their original Broadway roles in the film. The film marked Wickes' film debut.

In the film Jimmy Durante's character Banjo refers to Ann Sheridan's character Lorraine as "The Oomph Girl," which was Sheridan's real-life nickname. In the original play, Banjo calls Lorraine "Old Hot-pants."

Ann Sheridan was shooting another picture, Kings Row (1942), at the same time she was working on The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Mary Astor was tested for the role of Lorraine.

Danny Kaye tested for the role of Banjo.

Famous Quotes from THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

MAGGIE (Bette Davis): Sherry, the next time you do NOT want to see anybody, just let me know, and I'll usher them right in.

SHERIDAN WHITESIDE (Monty Woolley): Banjo, my lad, you're wonderful. I may write a book about you.
BANJO (Jimmy Durante): Don't bother, I can't read!

BEVERLY CARLTON (Reginald Gardiner): I have very little time, and so the conversation will be entirely about me and I shall love it.

SHERIDAN: And now, will you all now leave quietly, or must I ask Miss Cutler to pass among you with a baseball bat?

SHERIDAN: My great aunt Jennifer ate a whole box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be 102, and when she had been dead three days, she looked better than you do now.

MISS PREEN (Mary Wickes): I am not only walking out on this case, Mr. Whiteside, I am leaving the nursing profession. I became a nurse because all my life, ever since I was a little girl, I was filled with the idea of serving a suffering humanity. After one month with you, Mr. Whiteside, I am going to work in a munitions factory. From now on, anything I can do to help exterminate the human race will fill me with the greatest of pleasure. If Florence Nightingale had ever nursed YOU, Mr. Whiteside, she would have married Jack the Ripper instead of founding the Red Cross!

MAGGIE: You know, Sheridan, you have one great advantage over everyone else in the world. You've never had to meet Sheridan Whiteside.

SHERIDAN: (referring to Harriet) Strange? She's right out of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

SHERIDAN: (to Miss Preen) Go in and read the life of Florence Nightingale and learn how unfitted you are for your chosen profession.

SHERIDAN: Will you take your clammy hand off my chair? You have the touch of a love-starved cobra.

SHERIDAN: This ageing debutante, Mr. Jefferson, I retain in my employ only because she is the sole support of her two-headed brother!

SHERIDAN: I simply will not sit down to dinner with midwestern barbarians, I think too highly of my digestive system.
MAGGIE: Harry Clarke is one of your oldest friends.
SHERIDAN: My stomach is an older one.
MAGGIE: And Mrs. Stanley is president of the women's club.
SHERIDAN: I wouldn't care if she was the whole cabinet.

SHERIDAN: Is there a man in the world who suffers as I do from the gross inadequacies of the human race?

BERT JEFFERSON (Richard Travis): How do you think Ohio women stack up?
SHERIDAN: I've never gone in for stacking women up so I really can't say.

BANJO: (to Miss Preen) I can feel the hot blood pounding through your varicose veins.

BANJO: (to Miss Preen) Come to my room in a half hour and bring some rye bread.

MISS PREEN: Mr. Whiteside, I can only be in one place at a time.
SHERIDAN: That's very fortunate for this community.

SHERIDAN: (to Banjo) How long can you stay?
BANJO: Just long enough to take a bath.

BEVERLY CARLTON: How can one man possibly be as clever as I am?

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

The Man Who Came to Dinner all began with Alexander Woollcott. Woollcott, a larger-than-life character and fixture of the famed Algonquin Round Table, was one of the most eminent critics and radio personalities of the 1920s and 30s. As writer Jared Brown describes him in his 2006 book Moss Hart: A Prince of the Theatre, Woollcott "was one of the most famous men in the United States, a critic of such influence that a word from him could make or break a play or novel, a raconteur whose witticisms and invective were constantly quoted, a frequent visitor to the White House and the homes of the world's most famous artists and statesmen." While many prominent people called Woollcott a friend, he was also known for his acid tongue and demanding, impossible-to-please attitude. He could be charming and generous one minute; petulant and venomous the next.

Woollcott counted among his friends the highly successful playwriting team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. One evening while Woollcott was visiting Moss Hart, he made an unusual request. He wanted Hart and Kaufman to write a new play for him to star in. Woollcott had dabbled in acting before and thought that being in a play would be a new way in which to reach his massive audience. Somewhat dubious but not wanting to disappoint his friend, Hart agreed to give the matter some thought.

Hart and Kaufman started kicking around the idea of what sort of play they could write for Woollcott. Should it be a comedy? A drama? What sort of role would suit him best? They weren't able to come up with any idea that seemed to work. Then Hart remembered a particular overnight visit that Woollcott had made to his Pennsylvania country home earlier in the year.

Woollcott's visit had been an unmitigated nightmare. His behavior was outrageous. "He made one irritating demand after another," describes Jared Brown, "insisting, for example, that he would not go to bed unless a milkshake and chocolate cookies were prepared for him, demanding that all the heat in the house be turned off, and refusing to sleep in any room other than Hart's bedroom. He also accused the servants of dishonesty." When Hart later read Woollcott's entry in the guestbook he kept in the house, the disagreeable guest had written: "I wish to say that on my first visit to Moss Hart's house I had one of the most unpleasant evenings I can ever recall having spent."

When describing the disastrous visit to Kaufman, Moss Hart punctuated his story with the thought, "Wouldn't it have been awful if [Woollcott] had broken a leg and been on my hands for the rest of the summer?" The two of them looked at each other and something clicked. This should be the idea for the play.

The play The Man Who Came to Dinner opened on Broadway to great acclaim on October 16, 1939. It starred Monty Woolley as the Woollcott inspired character Sheridan Whiteside. Far from being insulted, Woollcott loved the play, but felt he was too close to the character to play him on stage.

Warner Bros. bought the film rights to the play for $275,000 and assigned the task of writing the screenplay to the filial team of Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein. William Keighley (The Bride Came C.O.D. [1941]) was assigned to direct. At first Alexander Woollcott resisted giving Warner Bros. his permission for a film version to be made. Some said that he was fearful of losing control over how the character of Sheridan was played. Others believed that Woollcott simply wanted to be sure that he got credit for being the initial inspiration for the play. In a characteristically prickly note to George S. Kaufman, Woollcott wrote: "I thought and still think of [the $12,375 Warners offered him] as a token payment acknowledging the considerable indebtedness to me in the matter of the whole venture, which neither you nor Hart had ever recognized or at least admitted." Eventually, Woollcott did grant his permission for the film project to move forward.

Bette Davis had gone to see the stage play of The Man Who Came to Dinner while on a visit to New York and loved it. She thought that the part of Maggie, Sheridan Whiteside's long suffering secretary, would be a good part for her. It would be a chance for her to break from her usual heavy dramatic roles and do a light comedy for a change, something unusual for her.

Warner Bros. was surprised when Davis lobbied to play Maggie in the film version. Davis, a two-time Oscar® winner for Best Actress, was one of Warner Bros. top stars. The Man Who Came to Dinner was an ensemble piece and Maggie was a supporting character that would have to play second fiddle to Sheridan Whiteside. The studio felt that the role might be better suited to Rosalind Russell or Jean Arthur, but Davis continued to push. She knew that it was a good piece and simply wanted to be a part of it. Warner Bros. relented and gave her the part knowing that it certainly wouldn't hurt to have Davis' star power behind the film.

The starring role of Sheridan Whiteside was the most difficult part to cast. It was such a rich role that several Hollywood actors were interested. Bette Davis desperately wanted producer Hal Wallis to cast John Barrymore, but Barrymore's drinking problem got in the way. "Bette Davis urged me to use John Barrymore," said Hal Wallis in his 1980 autobiography Starmaker, "but I couldn't risk it. The dialogue in The Man Who Came to Dinner was tremendously complicated, and Barrymore was drinking so heavily that he had to read his lines from cue cards." While Monty Woolley had been brilliant in the play, he was not a name actor that would be recognizable to movie audiences and the studio resisted using him. Wallis kept looking.

Academy Award-winning actor Charles Laughton also wanted the role. "...Laughton was desperate to play the part," said Wallis, "and even offered to test for it. His agent, Phil Berg, sent me an endless stream of notes urging me to consider him. Jack Warner was afraid that Laughton, a homosexual, might be effeminate in the role. Director Edmund Goulding handled his test very carefully, but Jack turned out to be right. We had to tell his agent that his client was out of the question." Laughton was upset. "Laughton, a very emotional man," said Wallis, "broke into tears when he heard the news. Berg called and asked me to give him another chance...I was touched by the call and gave Laughton another test. But it was a disaster, worse than the first. When he left the studio, Laughton's face was a picture of despair."

The studio tested Laird Cregar who had been making a name for himself in films for Twentieth Century-Fox such as Blood and Sand (1941) and The Black Swan (1942) as well as actor Robert Benchley. Though talented, Wallis found Cregar's interpretation of Sheridan Whiteside "overblown and extravagant." Benchley's test he found "too mild mannered." Even Cary Grant was suggested by Jack Warner, though Wallis found Grant "far too young and attractive."

Orson Welles threw his hat into the ring also to play Sheridan Whiteside. However, he also wanted to direct the film. Warner Bros. liked the idea of his acting in the film, but not directing. Welles said that he would do the part, but only if Leo McCarey or Howard Hawks would direct. The plans were thwarted, however, when it turned out that neither McCarey nor Hawks was available. Additionally, RKO Studios called Hal Wallis and made it clear that Welles was under contract to them and they would refuse to let him make The Man Who Came to Dinner. According to Hal Wallis, even the First Lady herself, Eleanor Roosevelt, called him personally to convince him to put Orson Welles in the film. "I referred her to George Schaefer [at RKO]," said Wallis. "Apparently even her unique powers of persuasion could not overcome that tough man's decision."

Finally, with time slipping away, Wallis and Warner thought again of Monty Woolley, who had made such a hit with his performance in the stage version. "In desperation, we went back to Monty Woolley," said Wallis. "Jack [Warner] was afraid that Woolley's homosexuality would be obvious in the scenes. Bette Davis hated him and threatened that she wouldn't work with him, but we tested him anyway...He was excellent. His acid, piercingly sharp delivery of the lines, spoiled-child mannerisms, and outbursts of petulant rage were perfection itself. We felt that Bette and a strong enough cast could make up for the fact that Woolley wasn't a box office name."

Rounding out the cast were Ann Sheridan as Whiteside's delectable actress friend Lorraine, Richard Travis as Maggie's local love interest Bert, Jimmy Durante as the manic entertainer Banjo, Reginald Gardiner as the Noel Coward-esque Beverly Carlton, Billie Burke and Grant Mitchell as the put-upon hosts the Stanleys, Mary Wickes reprising her stage role as Miss Preen, and Ruth Vivian also reprising her original stage role as the batty Harriet.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Shooting began on The Man Who Came to Dinner in July 1941. Bette Davis, who had gone into the film disappointed with the choice of Monty Woolley as Sheridan Whiteside, put aside her differences and gave her best as an actress. Though she still wished that John Barrymore was playing Whiteside, she eventually warmed up to Woolley and the two got along fine.

The filming of The Man Who Came to Dinner proceeded smoothly with the cast working well together as an ensemble. Ann Sheridan had a particularly stressful time making the film because she was shooting another film, Kings Row (1942), simultaneously. When Sheridan was asked later if she had run into any trouble with the notoriously temperamental star Bette Davis, she denied it. "Oh, no. Very little," she said. "She wasn't happy about a lot of things...But this had nothing to do with me. I adored her. Wouldn't dream of fighting with her at all so she got very nice. She was just temperamental. Who isn't now and then?"

The only real snafu that happened during the making of The Man Who Came to Dinner was a bizarre one: Bette Davis' dog bit her hard on the nose, leaving a noticeable wound. Davis had to retreat to her home in New Hampshire for several weeks, according to Hal Wallis, in order to heal and be presentable for the camera. She eventually returned to the set before her nose was fully healed. "We shot for two days with Bette's back to the camera," said Wallis. "This was fine, except that every time the other actors saw her, they broke into fits of giggling led by Monty Woolley. It became impossible for them to speak their lines."

The Man Who Came to Dinner opened in January 1942. It was a solid hit and received much critical praise, though surprisingly it did not receive any Academy Award nominations. Bette Davis expressed later that she blamed the direction. "I felt the film was not directed in a very imaginative way," she said in 1974. "For me it was not a happy film to make that it was a success, of course, did make me happy. I guess I never got over my disappointment in not working with the great John Barrymore."

Audiences, however, loved Monty Woolley as Sheridan Whiteside. The characterization was one of the funniest and most unique ever put on the screen. The film not only was a comic treasure, but it also helped forever cement the legacy of the impossible yet irresistible figure of its inspiration, Alexander Woollcott. "...it turned his insults into high comedy," said writer Edmund P. Hoyt in his 1968 book Alexander Woollcott: The Man Who Came to Dinner, "and undoubtedly prevented his being socked in the jaw at least twice a week."

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Wit ruled in the New York of the '20s and '30s. And nowhere was it more evident than among the writers and artists who regularly met for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, a group popularly known as The Algonquin Round Table. Playwrights Robert E. Sherwood and James MacArthur, comic Harpo Marx, novelist Edna Ferber and poet Dorothy Parker kept gossip columns humming with their caustic comments. And no one dipped his pen in more venom than gossip columnist and radio star Alexander Woollcott.

Woollcott was a study in contradictions. His wit punctured pretensions while he helped put James Hilton's sentimental novels Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips on the best-seller lists. And he raised more than a few eyebrows with his habit of hosting dinner parties in full drag. His negative side inspired the acerbic critic played by Clifton Webb in the 1944 film noir, Laura. By contrast, comic playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart painted a more affectionate portrait of Woollcot (minus the cross-dressing) in the character of Sheridan Whiteside, The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941). And as a bonus, they threw in sketches of Harpo Marx, stage diva Gertrude Lawrence and all-around wit Noel Coward. The result was one of the theatre's most wickedly funny plays - and one of Hollywood's most uproarious films.

It was Bette Davis who pushed Warner Bros. to pick up the film rights - not that they needed much pushing; the play was a huge hit. She had long wanted a chance to work with the legendary John Barrymore and saw this as the perfect vehicle even though it would give him the flashier role. But when the studio tested Barrymore, his memory had been so affected by a lifetime of hard drinking, that studio head Jack Warner decided not to take the chance. They considered major stars like Orson Welles, Cary Grant and Fredric March for the role, but with Davis supplying box-office insurance as Whiteside's secretary, they decided to go with the play's Broadway star, Monty Woolley. The former Yale professor, who had become an actor at the urging of friend Cole Porter, had played some minor roles in Hollywood in the '30s, but would finally become a film star in The Man Who Came to Dinner at the age of 54.

Davis, of course, was heartbroken that Barrymore hadn't gotten the role, and during the first days of shooting, she and Woolley did not get along. Surprisingly, she had no problems with co-star Ann Sheridan, even though Sheridan had the flashier role as stage star Lorraine Sheldon. Sheridan was never one for temperament and won Davis over by agreeing with her on everything and by asking her advice. And Sheridan didn't have much time to make trouble. When she wasn't shooting scenes as the sophisticated stage star in The Man Who Came to Dinner, she was on another set playing a simple, small-town girl in Kings Row (1942). The versatility she displayed in these two roles won Sheridan the best reviews of her career.

Director: William Keighley
Producer: San Harris, Jack Saper, Jerry Wald, Hal B. Wallis (executive), Jack L. Warner
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Editor: Jack Killifer
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Music: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Bette Davis (Maggie Cutler), Ann Sheridan (Lorraine Sheldon), Monty Woolley (Sheridan Whiteside), Richard Travis (Bert Jefferson), Jimmy Durante (Banjo).
BW-113m. Close captioning. Descriptive video.

By Frank Miller

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teaser The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

The Critics' Corner: THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER"Just in time to slip under the wire as the niftiest comedy of 1942 (to date), the Warners' meticulous screen version of the George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play, The Man Who Came to Dinner, kept an appointment at the Strand yesterday and pealed off more concentrated merriment than did the New Year's bells...in the space of something like an hour and fifty-two minutes, is compacted what is unquestionably the most vicious but hilarious cat-clawing exhibition ever put on the screen, a deliciously wicked character portrait and a helter-skelter satire, withal...Also the Warners were most wise when they finally decided to cast Monty Woolley in the title role which he so handsomely played on the stage. For Mr. Woolley makes The Man Who Came to Dinner a rare old goat. His zest for rascality is delightful, he spouts alliterations as though he were spitting out orange seeds, and his dynamic dudgeons in a wheelchair are even mightier than those of Lionel Barrymore. A more entertaining buttinsky could hardly be conceived, and a less entertaining one would be murdered on the spot. One palm should be handed Bette Davis for accepting the secondary role of the secretary, and another palm should be handed her for playing it so moderately and well. Ann Sheridan, too, as an actress of definitely feline breed, gives a tartly mannered performance, and Jimmy Durante plays Jimmy Durante with so much gusto that it is just as well for our diaphragms that his part is comparatively brief. He's a killer while in there, though. And Reginald Gardiner, Billie Burke, Grant Mitchell, Mary Wickes, a new young actor named Richard Travis and a cast which is perfect to a man assist most competently...It makes laughing at famous people a most satisfying delight."
The New York Times

"The Man Who Came to Dinner...continues the glorification of that rococo personality, Monty Woolley...Actor Woolley merely transfers to celluloid, for the exquisite benefit of cinemaddicts and posterity, the unexpurgated version of Alexander Woollcott which he played for two years on Broadway. The switch from Broadway to Hollywood is scarcely noticeable...Although there is hardly room for the rest of the cast to sandwich in much of a performance between this fattest of fat parts, Bette Davis, hair up, neuroses gone, is excellent as Woolley's lovesick secretary...Jimmy Durante, as himself; Billie Burke and Grant Mitchell, as the insulted and injured hosts; Reginald Gardiner, as Noel Coward, are tops...Possessor of the most Edwardian visage of his era, bon vivant, trust-funder, darling of Manhattan's cafe society, onetime Yale English instructor, 53-year-old Actor Woolley plays Sheridan Whiteside with such vast authority and competence that it is difficult to imagine anyone else attempting it. As one of his intimates has remarked: 'At last the old party has got the role he's been rehearsing for all his life.'"
- Time Magazine

"In the 30s, the unctuous, sentimental Alexander Woollcott was loved by millions of radio listeners; Woollcott the outrageous master of euphonious insults was loved and hated by a small circle. Two members of this circle, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, made him the hero and the target of their 1939 Broadway hit-a cheerful spoof on celebrity in that period. In this film version, the devastatingly adroit Monty Woolley (a former professor of drama at Yale) plays the arrogant, infantile Sheridan Whiteside, who goes on a lecture tour and breaks his hip while attending a dinner in his honor at the home of boring, worshipful fans. Stuck in that home until his hip mends, he takes it over and orders the residents around. Woolley has a wonderful way of looking at these hick fans with compassionate contempt-he feels sorry for them because they're too obtuse to appreciate how brilliant he is. The play, however, was built on topical jokes and a series of vaudeville turns, and in this version the jokes are flat and the turns seemed forced and not very funny. With Bette Davis as Whiteside's secretary, Reginald Gardiner impersonating Noel Coward, Jimmy Durante in the role based on Harpo Marx, Ann Sheridan as the sexpot actress, and Billie Burke, Richard Travis, George Barbier, and Grant Mitchell. Directed by William Keighley; the script, by the Epstein brothers, changed only a few lines."
Pauline Kael

"One of the most welcome comedies of the season...Monty Woolley is even better than he was in the Broadway version...Bette Davis has, if anything, built up her star stature by accepting the secondary part."
- Variety

"...it is Woolley that makes The Man Who Came to Dinner the outstanding film that it is. Woolley is given many great lines, but it is timing and personality that makes them as funny as they are. When Whiteside delivers an insult, it is blistering and devastating."
- Brian Koller, filmsgraded.com

"It's rather unimaginatively directed, but the performers savour the sharp, sparklingly cynical dialogue with glee."
- Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Film Guide

"Delightfully malicious caricature of Alexander Woollcott which, though virtually confined to one set, moves so fast that one barely notices the lack of cinematic variety, and certainly provides more than a laugh a minute, especially for those old enough to understand all the references."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide

"Monty Woolley enthusiastically recreated his stage performance and Bette Davis skillfully portrayed the secretary; the film bears the marks of its stage origins but William Keighley maintained an effectively frantic comic pace."
- The Oxford Companion to Film

"Delightful adaptation of George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play"
- Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

"From this frenetic, slapsticky staging, it's difficult to see what kept the New York audiences coming back; it's only Bette Davis, in the sole straight part, who manages to rise above the general atmosphere of laugh-begging desperation."
- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

"The Man Who Came to Dinner brilliantly combines screwball and drawing room comedy, yet its superb writing hides the nuts and bolts of its complicated construction. Screenwriters Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein (who would pen Casablanca later the same year) open up the play just enough to let it breathe, but wisely retain most of the original dialogue and all of the chaotic action. And what wacky chaos it is! How many other films feature an octopus, roaming penguins, a saintly boys choir, and a bona fide Lizzie Borden all vying for attention? Yet despite such zany distractions, The Man Who Came to Dinner still presents a focused narrative and tempers its lunacy with several scenes of heartrending warmth and meaning. The film mirrors You Can't Take It With You (another Kaufman and Hart gem) in style and structure, as it introduces a host of seemingly disjointed subplots that somehow intertwine by the final curtain. And with such an eccentric cast of characters, even the smallest bit players find a way to shine."
- David Krauss, www.digitallyobsessed.com

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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