Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 204: The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) - Rank 3.5/5


This has to be one of the meanest comedies I've ever seen. Granted, the "screwball comedies" of the 1930's and 1940's can be surprisingly dark at times, but this film is just downright cruel quite frequently. The purveyor of this nastiness is Sherman Whiteside (played with acerbic glee by portly character actor Monty Woolley), a famed author and radio celebrity who breaks his leg on the way to a banal dinner date with the Stanley family (headed by Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke). Once an invalid and stranded in the Stanley home, Whiteside makes a profession of hurling insults at the Stanley family, as well as being quite vocal about his pledge to sue them for $150,000, despite the fact that they spend every waking moment tending to his needs (proclaiming: "Is there a man in the world who suffers as I do from the gross inadequacies of the human race?").

But as the film progresses, it seems more and more unlikely that any family, even those clans with affluence to a fault, would continue to care for a man that strives to make every loving relationship that he picks up on his radar end in tears and arguing. It also seems even more unlikely that such a heartless bastard - a man who makes Ebenezer Scrooge seem like Mother Teresa - would seek redemption in the eyes of others at any point in time. Ah, but he does, leading to an implausible climax. That's not to say that the entertainment aspects of the feature are devalued, for I quite enjoyed the embittered cat-and-mouse warfare between Whiteside and his longtime, highly tolerant secretary (Bette Davis) or his temperamental nurse (Mary Wickes, whom he tells, after being fussed at for eating candy, "My great aunt Jennifer ate a whole box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be 102 and when she'd been dead three days she looked better than you do now!"). It just keeps a good comedy from rising to greatness is all. However, I have to admit that I am jealous of Whiteside's ability to make every sentence he speaks a vicious insult. Check out the link below and marvel at the talent for yourself.

Watch the Insults Fly

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