Think of your favorite celebrity – a movie star, an author, a world leader. Let’s say Elvis. Pretend Elvis is arriving in your hometown, and you have been chosen to meet him at the airport. Being polite, you invite Elvis to your house for dinner. When you get to your house for dinner, Elvis slips on some ice and breaks his leg. You then discover Elvis is kind of a nightmare. He threatens to sue you for millions of dollars unless you do exactly everything he wants until he’s all better.
That’s the set-up for “The Man Who Came To Dinner.” Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Wolley) is a world-famous play and novel critic. He makes and breaks careers, is on a first name business with Winston Churchill, and is the biggest diva you’ve ever seen. He’s passing through a small midwest town on a nationwide tour, and is met at the train by Mr. and Mrs. Stanley, (Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke), the welcoming committee. Mrs. Stanley is particularly beside herself at the chance to meet one of her favorite celebrities. She begs him to eat dinner at their house, and he agrees. Before he even gets in the house, he slips on their icy stoop and fractures his hip.
And so begins the most miserable Christmas the Stanleys have ever known. Whiteside and his secretary, Maggie (Bette Davis) have moved into their home – in fact, they’ve taken it over. For more than a month, they’ve sequestered the Stanleys to a small part of the house while Whiteside and Maggie fill the rest with bizarre gifts from foreign dignitaries wishing Whiteside well, and even more bizarre houseguests. Whenever the Stanleys protest, Whiteside threatens to go forward with a lawsuit that that would take them for everything they were worth.
While Whiteside is doing his vindictive best to turn the Stanley’s world upside down, Maggie is falling in love with a local yokel newspaper man and tells Whiteside that she’s going to quit her job and get married. Whiteside is distraught. Totally dependent on the longsuffering secretary, he’s desperate to keep her – because of her work ethic, not for romantic reasons. How modern! Whiteside concocts a scheme to break up the blossoming relationship. But will Maggie stay when she finds out he’s behind it? And will the Stanleys ever get rid of their their most unwelcome houseguest – without losing their shirts in a civil suit?
“The Man Who Came To Dinner” was originally a stage play, so there’s not a huge cast for this movie. However all the supporting roles are still very strong, with the likes of Ann Sheridan, Mary Wickes and Jimmy Durante carrying the story along. I’m not generally a fan of Bette Davis, but I do enjoy her in this. Maybe because she’s second to Monty Wolley, who is delightfully obnoxious. And yet at times also oddly endearing. While Whiteside is determined to make the Stanleys miserable, he takes an interest in their grown son and daughter, encouraging them to pursue their dreams. Of course, the fact that these dreams are completely contrary to what their parents want is probably a factor :)
A kooky Christmas comedy, “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is going to be on TCM on Saturday, December 22, at 5:00 pm CST.
Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) – Tuesday, December 18, 9:00 pm CST
On Moonlight Bay (1951) – Tuesday, December 18, 11:00 pm CST
The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950) – Wednesday, December 19, 3:00 am CST
Double Indemnity (1944) – Wednesday, December 19, 7:00 pm CST
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) – Wednesday, December 19, 11:00 pm CST
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) – Thursday, December 20, 8:30 pm CST
Bachelor Mother (1939) – Thursday, December 20, 10:15 pm CST
Rebel Without A Cause (1955) – Saturday, December 22, 7:00 pm CST
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – Sunday, December 23, 1:15 am CST (Saturday night)
The Bishop’s Wife (1948) – Sunday, December 23, 7:00 pm CST