“Is there a man in the world who suffers as I do from the gross inadequacies of the human race?”
After slipping on ice outside the home of an upper crust Ohio couple (Billie Burke and Grant Mitchell), curmudgeonly literary critic Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) commandeers their house as a recovery station. Meanwhile, his secretary (Bette Davis) falls in love with a local newspaperman (Richard Travis), and Whiteside — worried about losing his loyal employee to marriage — calls on the help of his seductive actress-friend (Ann Sheridan) to interfere.
Monty Woolley — a.k.a. “The Beard” — gave his signature performance in this adaptation of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s madcap ensemble play, co-starring a subdued Bette Davis (who had originally hoped to perform opposite John Barrymore), and a deliciously self-absorbed Ann Sheridan. Unfortunately, the script has dated over the years, with too many references to contemporary celebrities, and an annoying cameo appearance by Jimmy Durante (who inexplicably starts playing the piano and singing, “Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go, and still have the feeling that you wanted to stay?”).
Most egregiously, however, it features a lead protagonist who’s simply too nasty for comfort: not only is Whiteside litigation-happy (he immediately threatens to sue his gracious guests for $150,000 dollars), but he’s constantly making mean-spirited comments (“My great-aunt Jennifer ate a whole box of candy every day of her life; she lived to be 102, and when she had been dead three days, she looked better than you do now”). Unlike Noel Coward’s ruthless publisher in The Scoundrel (1935) — who eventually gets his come-uppance — Whiteside is, inexplicably, beloved by many; ultimately, it’s hard to root for someone so irredeemably obnoxious.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Monty Woolley in his most famous curmudgeonly role
- Ann Sheridan’s over-the-top performance as the narcissistic Lorraine Sheldon
- Mary Wickes in her screen debut as Nurse Preen
No, though it’s recommended simply to see Woolley in his most definitive role.