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TV Reviews : New 'Dinner at Eight' a Stylish Delight on TNT

December 11, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS

The 1933 "Dinner at Eight" is such a cherished Hollywood classic that one can only approach a remake with trepidation. Yet TNT's new production, which premieres at 5 and repeats at 7 tonight, is a sparkling delight, thanks to an apt cast and especially to writer Tom Griffin.

His updating is shrewd: His imaginative array of contemporary references underline what is timeless in playwrights George S. Kaufman's and Edna Ferber's observations of human nature. (Griffin was also able to draw upon the original screenplay by Frances Marion and Herman Mankiewicz, with additional dialogue by Donald Ogden Stewart.)

The cast is such a pleasure that they deserve your attempt to try to forget who originally played their parts. Lauren Bacall sets the tone for the occasion with her elegance and sophistication. She is a glamorous, self-described trash novelist who has lived beyond her means.

She is to be the most glittering of the guests invited by Marsha Mason, the social butterfly wife of New York shipping company owner John Mahoney, an old flame of Bacall's. Mahoney is a gentlemanly Establishment WASP whose 100-years-plus family concern is threatened with a takeover.

Almost every one of Mason's invitees is in the grip of some kind of crisis. Worst off is Harry Hamlin, playing an egotistical ex-TV series star wired on coke and hitting the skids hard. Mason and Mahoney haven't an inkling that their spoiled daughter (Stacy Edwards) is in love with him. Then there's Charles Durning's loud, coarse (and very shrewd) tycoon, who is at war with his flashy wife (Ellen Greene), who sees Mason's invitation as a longed-for chance for social acceptance.

Ron Lagomarsino's direction is more theatrical than cinematic, and that suits the material and the medium just fine. Durning and especially Greene play broadly, but that's part of the fun. Mahoney emerges as a figure of dignity and sympathy, and Mason gets the chance to show us that the wife has some substance after all.

This "Dinner at Eight" is a very stylish affair, with settings designed by Jame Osmann and costumes designed by Rita Ryack. It will encore Sunday at 1 p.m. and Dec. 21 at 5 p.m.

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