Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dinner at Eight

Both of my parents grew up with the movies. My Dad had been born in 1910 and thus could literally remember Chaplin at his early peak! My mother, born five years later, became a big motion picture fan in the Great Depression. I've already written about the first movie I remember them ever seeing with me. DINNER AT EIGHT was the last.

Here in the Greater Cincinnati area, film buffs were lucky in the mid-seventies when The Ohio Valley Theater Organ Society reopened the long dormant uptown Emery Theater on weekends for showing classic motion pictures in order to raise money to restore the theater. There was usually a theater organ recital preceding each show, on the relocated RKO Albee giant Wurlitzer! Then a single or often double feature, sometimes accompanied by cartoons and/or short subjects. In spite of the always uncomfortable metal seats with torn padding, I loved every visit.

I spent most of my Sunday afternoons at the Emery in those days and continued to do so into the early eighties before they finally gave up the ghost.

It was in 1980, not long before my mother became sick with cancer, that I talked both parents into accompanying me to see director George Cukor's big screen presentation of the classic 1933 dramedy, DINNER AT EIGHT.

Based on a largely forgotten play by the brilliantly witty George S. Kaufman with Edna Ferber, DINNER AT EIGHT introduces us to a group of people, few of whom are much like the images they project, as they prepare for a major society dinner party.

Outside of the somewhat soapy story itself, what makes the film memorable is its all-star cast, one of the biggest and best mixes to that date. Matinee idol John Barrymore appears, still looking awesome, as does his brother Lionel, MGM stalwart Wallace Beery, longtime star Marie Dressler, handsome Edmund Lowe and Lee Tracy, flighty Billie Burke (best-remembered today as Glinda in THE WIZARD OF OZ) and, most memorably, Jean Harlow, stealing every scene as the gold-digging blonde who most definitely does not fit in with the rest of the crowd.

Harlow, as you can see, also stole most of the advertising! Already on the rise after 6 years in pictures, sex symbol Harlow zoomed to being quite the major star after this and ran a meteoric run of success until her unexpected and certainly untimely passing only four years later.

 It was 46 years after its initial release when my parents and I took a bus into downtown Cincinnati one Saturday evening and then had to walk 8 blocks to the theater. It was a little scary, quite frankly, but once we arrived, there was a nearly full house! If you've never seen a classic film in a packed theater, you are missing out. Everyone laughed loudly, everyone sighed as one. At the end, everyone applauded! You used to applaud in theaters. No more.

But Mr. and Mrs. Thompson laughed loudly and applauded that night and I beamed at getting them to come out with me, never suspecting it would be the final time. All the way back, after 11 PM, we talked about the movie as we hurried along through less than savory neighborhoods to catch the last bus back across the river.

1 comment:

  1. An all star extravaganza! Marie Dressler left us too soon, she was hilarious.