The Man Who Came to Dinner Reviews
Also notable is Bette Davis, who plays an almost polar opposite from her usual parts: a straightforward, non-nonsense career girl (not to mention a secondary part, not something she would usually agree to, but she actively lobbied to get this part, after having seen the stage version). Her acting is surprisingly moderate, leaving out her neuroses and clipped speech & grand gesturing. Possibly her most downplayed role, it's the right choice for this particular part, but I prefer my Davis neurotic and with something a bit more challenging to do.
Everything accelerates with one contrivance after another, what with a boys' choir, an Egyptian mummy, a flock of penguins. The cast relishes the incisive, brightly sneering dialogue with delight, but it's only Bette Davis, in the sole straight part, who manages to overcome the common air of laugh-begging despair. The movie grovels for laughs while striving for the wittiest way to say any and everything that's said. And Davis and the rest of the cast don't serve the story so much as anchor it in our associations with the familiar faces and names, as well as graceful comportment and transatlantic accents. The film strains itself over impeccable form to compensate for its flimsy, snooty, cloying function.
The pacing is not as rhythmic as it would like to think it is. This whole movie likes to think, and would especially like us to think, that it's a quick-witted, razor-sharp farce in the classic Hawksian or Capra-esquire sense. It doesn't really want us to care about elements and characters it's just placed to add bulk around what it has truly designed for us to care about, which is Bette Davis' love interest and how her controlling boss prevents her marriage to the Ohio newspaperman. Nearly every other character, no matter how significant the conflict is that they're presented with, is forcibly marginalized for the remainder only to be resolved in a hurry at the end. But it's OK because we're effectively engaged in the quandary between Davis and her giant douche of a boss. The trick is that we're not supposed to think about much outside of that.
My earliest ventures in thinking about movies, not just watching them, not just putting them on and looking at them, showed me that thinking has much to do with keeping experiences alive long enough to take something away from them, making them valuable ones. Thinking may bring to light distressing realities or produce dead ends, but its real purpose is to strengthen an idea, to increase our connection to a subject by strengthening its value in our minds. In this way, thinking gives life some character and linkage, a narrative characteristic, as if our ideas, prompted by unembarrassed interest, were running through our minds like movies! A light-hearted movie is one thing, but a movie that disregards the expectation that its audience would like to actually sink its teeth into it is another.