When Ernest and Daisy Stanley (Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke) invite the famous radio personality Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) to dine at their home while he’s in town for a lecture, they’re only expecting the prestige that comes with having a celebrity come to their home. What they don’t count on is Sheridan taking a fall on their steps and injuring his hip. Unable to leave until it’s healed, Sheridan turns the Stanleys’ house completely upside down. He and his secretary Maggie (Bette Davis) take over the entire first floor of the home: the phone is ringing off the hook, his Christmas presents are being delivered left and right, and Sheridan invites over some colorful guests like members of his prison fan club. The Stanleys’ house staff is completely exhausted by trying to meet all his demands and dodging Sheridan’s endless barrage of insults. And just to make things more interesting, some of those Christmas presents are things like penguins and an octopus.
One afternoon, Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis), the owner of the local newspaper, comes by to see if he can get an interview. Sheridan initially turns him down, but Bert wins him over with some good snarky comments. Bert also wins over Maggie and the two of them go ice skating together. Maggie quickly falls in love with Bert and when she reads a play she wrote, she gives it to Sheridan hoping he’d get it into the right hands. Instead, he sees that Maggie is smitten and, afraid Maggie will quit her job to be with him, calls up his actress friend Lorraine Sheldon (Ann Sheridan) and has her come to town right away.
When Lorraine arrives on Christmas Eve, he tells her to try to charm Bert away from Maggie. Even though Lorraine tries hard, Maggie sees exactly what Sheridan is trying to do. Another actor friend of Sheridan’s, Beverly Carlton, comes to town on Christmas Eve, too. As luck would have it, Beverly can do an uncanny impression of Lorraine’s current boyfriend so Maggie has Beverly call Lorraine, pretend to be her boyfriend, and tell her he wants to marry her. Lorraine buys it hook, line, and sinker, but when Sheridan finds out who really called her, he fills her in and she goes right back to working on Bert.
By the time Christmas morning rolls around, all sorts of chaos ensues in the Stanley home. Maggie quits her job, Sheridan’s friend Banjo (Jimmy Durante) comes to town, Bert decides to go with Lorraine, and, to top it all off, Ernest Stanley cracks and brings the sheriff over to force Sheridan out of his house. But when Maggie tells Sheridan off, he realizes he has to get Lorraine away from Bert to make Maggie happy. Luckily Banjo come up with an idea to get Lorraine away from Bert and off to Nova Scotia with him. With Lorraine on her way to Nova Scotia, Sheridan gives Maggie his blessing to marry Bert and is finally ready to leave. But just as he’s out the door, he slips once again and it’s back to the Stanley home for him.
I adore The Man Who Came to Dinner! It’s so incredibly sharp and witty, I just can’t get enough of it. Bette Davis didn’t make too many comedies in her long career, which I always thought was a shame because she was often absolutely hilarious in interviews. She was never going to be a rival to Carole Lombard, but she knew how to deliver a witty line, which was exactly what this movie called for. This was really a nice breath of fresh air in Bette’s career when you consider that she made this right after The Little Foxes and in the same year she also did In This Our Life and Now, Voyager. The supporting cast was great, Jimmy Durante and Ann Sheridan were a lot of fun. But even though Bette Davis gets top billing, there’s no denying that the real star here is Monty Woolley. He was amazing at delivering all those razor-sharp comebacks. I always love a movie full of snappy comebacks and The Man Who Came to Dinner certainly gives movies like The Women a run for the money in that department! It’s one of those movies you have to see more than once just to catch everything. But it’s such a delightful movie, watching it more than once is no chore.