A restrained Jezebel, Ernie the octopus, Glenda the Good Witch, a hammy succubus in mink stoles, bug-eyed servants, street sweet taters, root beer-swigging penguins, Frosty's narrator, a Noel Coward impression, and Christmas Eve with an ax murderer, a mummy, and a royal pain in the ass.
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Sheridan “Sheri” Whiteside (Monty Woolley) is a snooty radio commentator and raconteur who's visiting the home of the Stanleys, a wealthy factory-owning family living in small town Ohio. Along side is his trusty assistant Maggie (Bette Davis) who sees to his every demanding need. Walking up the steps to the Stanley mansion, Sheri slips on the ice and lands hard on his butt. He's laid up in a wheelchair, threatens the Stanleys with a lawsuit, and takes over the household. Diagnosed with a strained hip, he is stuck until well after X-mas, which is only three weeks away. He drives everyone nuts from the butler to his nurse to the delivery men who haul his sacks of get-well letters, X-mas presents, and exotic animals over to the Stanleys. One day, young reporter Bert (Richard Travis) comes by to interview Sheri and Maggie becomes instantly smitten with the journalist and wannabe playwright. Sheri is instantly threatened by the budding romance and calls on his gold-digging actress friend Lorraine (Ann Sheridan) to come to the Stanleys to spend X-mas and seduce Bert away from Maggie. The plan backfires when Maggie uncovers the plot, threatens to quit, and is irrevocably hurt by Sheri's bastard-like behavior. He learns the error of his ways and recruits his wacky comedian pal Banjo (Jimmy Durante) to help him get rid of Lorraine who's also enamored by this guy named “Bert”. Meanwhile Sheri needs to prepare for his big X-mas Eve radio broadcast, the Stanleys are fed up with his shit, one of the family members is harboring a terrible secret, and penguins are wreaking havoc in what might be the kookiest X-mas ever. Wait, what happened to dinner?
While watching the classic stage-to-screen adaptation of The Man Who Came to Dinner, I had a similar reaction to it as yesterday's movie It Happened on 5th Avenue. The movie is long, unfocused, dated, barely involves X-mas, and fails to generate a comedic rhythm. Although there are some light and entertaining moments, it falls flat once the claustrophobic feeling of a one-set comedy sets in. It probably worked better on the stage or in a movie house in the late 40s, but watching it on my TV at home (ginormous as it is) I found myself getting a little bored and hoping it would choose a pace and stick with it. On the plus side, Woolley is hilarious as Sheri Whiteside, an irritating, haughty, mean-mouthed monster who learns the errors of his ways but never really changes. Davis looks beaming even though she's given little to do in her romantic subplot, and the supporting cast is good including a crazed Durante as a skirt-chasing wisenheimer. The Man Who Came to Dinner is funny at times but the references and comic moments are products of its time. As much as I despise unnecessary remakes, this movie might make for a good update in a contemporary premise and setting if the farcical structure and the good-natured message of the original is retained. But Sweet Christ, don't call Jim Carrey!