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Dinner at Eight

Image credit: Dinner at Eight, 1933

Last year around this time, I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because I thought it was a movie about people eating. Too late, I realized my mistake (I was already three drinks in before anyone even mentioned the dining room). This year, Dinner at Eight (Disc/Download) has fooled me anew, offering all the promise of a five-course meal with none of the calories. Really, after a year of pandemic weight gain, maybe that’s a good thing. I’m not sure who in Hollywood started the trend of “movies with dinner in the title that have nothing to do with dinner,” but let me just say, I am here for it every Thanksgiving. After a big meal, the last thing I want to see is more food.

There are a lot of familiar faces in this flick (Barrymores! Glenda the Good Witch!), but the true standout is Miss Jean Harlow. As soon as she appears onscreen, lounging in a silk bed eating bon-bons in the middle of the day, I am putty in her manicured hands. She takes a character that could have been a silly throwaway and turns it into the one thing that saves this movie from being too full of itself. Harlow is radiant in her satin negligees, platinum blonde hair, and hilarious facial expressions, and I find myself waiting for other actors’ scenes to end just so she’ll come back. Dinner at Eight is built around the premise of a group of upper-crust New Yorkers gathering for a dinner party, all of them hiding their own personal secrets, but the thing that sets Jean apart is she lets it all hang out. She doesn’t have time for bras, or politeness- in other words, the ideal dinner companion.

As these neurotic people navigate bankruptcy, career suicide, alcoholism, and afternoon trysts, I can’t help but think that Millicent Jordan’s bar cart better be stocked- they’ll all need a strong drink by the time a meal is actually served! Let’s toast them with this autumnal variation on a Manhattan, the Big Apple Martini.

Big Apple Martini

2 oz Applejack Brandy

½ oz Sweet Vermouth

1 oz Apple cider

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Luxardo Maraschino cherry (for garnish)

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

If you’re like me, you’ll get so wrapped up in the drama of this movie that you won’t even remember these characters are eventually supposed to break bread. As the day gets longer, and eight o’clock seems oh so far away, you start to realize that in the world of Classic Hollywood dinner parties, time doesn’t exist—it’s merely a suggestion. Cheers!

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