Our recommendation: The Man Who Came for Dinner (1942)
Airing at 12:00AM EST
This film is one of my favorite Christmas movies (though overall, the theme is quite less than Christmas-y), and I’m so glad to see it on the schedule for today because it features one of Ann Sheridan’s most enjoyable (though relatively minor) roles. And who doesn’t love a little taste of the holidays during the summer?
… Just me, then? Okay. Watch it anyway.
The Man Who Came to Dinner stars Monty Woolley as Sheridan “Sherry” Whiteside, a caustic radio personality and critic with a beyond-beleaguered assistant, Maggie (Bette Davis, giving an understated but wonderful performance in one of her rare comedies). Though he is entirely unpleasant to people in person, he has gained immense popularity and legions of fans through his radio show, and while on a speaking tour, he stops in Ohio and is invited to the home of the Stanleys. Entering the house, Sherry falls on the icy steps, injuring his hip. Threatening to sue and unable to be moved, Sherry subsequently takes over the Stanley household, raising havoc, misery, and family drama in his wake (something in which he perversely takes immense pleasure). In the meantime, Maggie falls in love with local newspaperman and aspiring writer Bert (Richard Travis), but Sherry, unwilling to lose his very capable assistant, conspires with his protege, actress Lorraine Shelton (Ann Sheridan), to break up the young couple.
Witty, snarky, and altogether rude at times, The Man Who Came to Dinner is, simply put, utterly hilarious. It’s also immensely quotable–no surprise, considering the screenplay (based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart) was written by Julius and Philip Epstein, who also wrote the equally quotable screenplays for films such as Casablanca and Arsenic and Old Lace. You’ll be throwing around some of these zingers (or wanting to, anyway) after watching this film.
Personally, my favorite interactions in the movie are between Sherry and his nurse, Ms. Preen (played by the ever-marvelous Mary Wickes in her screen debut), on whom he heaps nothing but abuse:
Sherry: “Ah, pecan butternut fudge!”
Preen: “Oh, my, you mustn’t eat candy, Mr. Whiteside, it’s very bad for you.”
Sherry: “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!”
And when Nurse Preen quits, she delights the audience (and Sherry) with her parting shot:
“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!”
Though Woolley–who was relatively unknown in Hollywood at the time he was cast–pretty much walks away with the film, Sheridan shines as pouty, ambitious Lorraine. She takes what could be a one-dimensional role–the rapacious, overacting starlet set on promoting herself and marrying well–and turns her into a delightfully self-involved, fully fleshed-out character.
The supporting cast is also full of gems: Jimmy Durante shows up for a brief but pivotal cameo as comedian “Banjo” and ends up putting Lorraine in her place; Reginald Gardiner is wonderfully smooth as the debonair Beverly Carlton, who helps Maggie try to foil Sherry’s plot; and Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke more than hold their own amidst the chaos as the put-upon Stanleys.
Make sure you catch this one. I guarantee you’ll be laughing from start to finish.