Dinner at Eight
seen on TV @ TCM
Among the many awesome posts written for my recent Diamonds & Gold Blogathon was one about Marie Dressler. I had a vague idea of who she was prior to reading this: middle-aged 30's star... and that's about it. I had the impression she was big in her day, though I found that kinda hard to believe: a matronly, not-that-great-looking (sorry) woman was once a box office draw? But apparently it's true.
Seeing her in a movie like Dinner at Eight, I think I can see something of what made her successful. It feels very much like a play, which makes sense since it's based on one, and it's much more character-driven than I expected. It takes its time in setting up its story, and it has a rambling, leisurely kind of feel, unlike, say, Grand Hotel, another MGM all-star attraction, which feels more plot-driven.
I liked the first scene between Dressler and Lionel Barrymore. It's two old pros playing off of each other, making acting look easy. You get the sense of history between the two of them, and genuine affection even though the passion has died. The way Barrymore plays it, I can almost believe that Dressler's character was once someone desirable. By contrast, she seems at ease and a little wistful, knowing that time has passed between the two of them and whatever beauty she may have once had has faded. It's a warm moment that plays out naturally.
The whole movie lets us into the lives of its many characters in much the same way. I also liked seeing Jean Harlow stand up to the ever-intimidating Wallace Beery. I had seen her before in one or two other movies, so I had an impression of what she was like. Such a shame that she died so young - only 26. What would the rest of her career had been like?
This year marks MGM's 90th anniversary, and while they're no longer the Hollywood powerhouse they once were, they still have one of the greatest legacies in the history of film. I guess when I think of MGM movies, I mostly think of musicals - big, star-studded affairs in widescreen and Technicolor. And James Bond, of course. They, perhaps more than any other old-school studio, symbolize the Golden Age of Hollywood for me and, I imagine, for many others too.