Plot & Details
The Man Who Came to Dinner, written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, has been one of the more enduring comedies in American theater. Apart from being filmed most successfully in 1941 at Warner Bros. with Monty Woolley and Bette Davis in the lead roles, it has enjoyed some 500 productions in the six decades since its premiere, despite the fact that few theatergoers remain who know or recognize the figures being satirized by the two authors. In the film, Woolley recreated his performance from the original Broadway production, and knowledge of the existence of that movie does somewhat mute the early impact of Nathan Lane's performance as Sheridan Whiteside, which must inevitably be compared with Woolley's blustery original. This production predated Lane's success in The Producers, and there are times when one must remember that Max Byalistock was in Lane's immediate future. As it is, there are moments where he recalls Orson Welles' performance in the role from a 1972 television adaptation, but after about 23 minutes Lane does get out from behind the shadow of Woolley and Welles, and simply becomes Whiteside. None of the work here is exactly heavy lifting for the talents involved, though one does tend to recall William Duell (an actor best known to television viewers for his role as the tipster on Police Squad) as the literary-minded doctor, and Lewis J. Stadlen -- who has carved a big corner of his career out of resurrecting the Marx Brothers -- portraying Banjo, the play's Harpo Marx stand-in. Directed by Jay Sandrich, a longtime expert at televised comedy (best known for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Cosby Show), the video production at its best is spirited in the manner of a French farce, with lots of people running in and out of doors to great comedic effect. The period setting is evoked not just by the costumes and hairstyles but also by newsreel footage and vintage newspaper headlines (some referring to Whiteside), which bridge the gaps between the scenes and acts.