The George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart Broadway hit The Man Who Came to Dinner was inspired by the authors' mutual friend, waspish critic/author Alexander Woollcott. Generously bearded ex-Yale professor Monty Woolley, no mean curmudgeon himself, plays the Woollcott character, here rechristened Sheridan Whiteside. While on a lecture tour in Ohio, Whiteside slips on the ice outside his hosts' home; until his broken leg heals, the hosts (Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke) are forced to put up (and put up with) the imperious Whiteside. This means enduring an unending stream of Whiteside's whims, caprices and vitriolic bon mots, as well as his long-distance phone calls, eccentric guests and a variety of critters, ranging from penguins to octopi. Like the real Woollcott, Whiteside insists upon stage-managing the lives of everyone around him. He is particularly keen on discouraging a romance between his faithful secretary Maggie Cutler (top-billed Bette Davis) and local newspaper editor Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis). Once he realizes he's gone too far in this respect, Whiteside is forced to reunite the lovers. That's only one aspect of a three-ring-circus plotline that accommodates a Lizzie Bordenish axe murderess, takeoffs of Woollcott intimates Harpo Marx, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, and a general practitioner who's willing to let his patients suffer for a chance to pitch his interminable memoirs to Whiteside. Featured in the cast are Jimmy Durante as "Banjo" (the Harpo clone), Reginald Gardiner as the Noel Coward-like Beverly Carlton, Anne Sheridan as the predatory Gertrude Lawrence counterpart Lorraine Sheldon, and Mary Wickes as the long-suffering Nurse Preen ("You have the touch of a love-starved cobra!") The script, by the Epstein brothers, manages to retain most of the play's best lines and situations, even while expanding Bette Davis' role to justify her start status; it's a shame, though, that we are robbed of Sheridan Whiteside's imperishable opening line, "I may vomit!"
by Hal Erickson synopsis