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Friday, December 26, 2014

Filme Friday: Dinner for One (1963)

This Filme Friday has a short (less than 20 minutes long) British film that's available for free online! Thank you youtube!

The movie is "Dinner for One" and it's a German New Year's Eve tradition. I wrote about my New Year's Eve Rummelpott experience on Föhr a couple of years ago, but while I was out singing for drinks, my mom was watching this short movie with family (and also toasting the new year with drinks poured by strangers parading down the street while some neighbors set off fireworks on the beach). While I can't enjoy a Föhrer celebration every year, I've made this movie part of my tradition to end the last two years. Then after the ball drops, I watch the pilot episode of Futurama. End one year with German culture, start the next with geek culture. 


It's not really clear why watching "Dinner for One" became a tradition, but half of Germans watch it each year. Even stranger, it never caught on in English-speaking countries. In fact, most people in English-speaking countries have never heard of it. 

The sketch was originally written by British author Lauri Wylie in the 1920's. It was performed decades later on stage and discovered in 1962 by Peter Frankenfeld and Heinz Dunkhase, who decided to broadcast it and film it. The sketch aired occasionally then found its New Year's Eve spot in 1972. Somehow, it became a cult classic and tradition in Germany and other countries. 

I watched it blindly, not knowing anything about the plot. If you want to be surprised, stop reading here until you watch it. But if you want to know what you're getting into, read on.

Watch it!

The short comedy only has two actors: 90 year old Miss Sophie and her butler, James. She is celebrating her birthday and wants "the same procedure as every year", which includes serving her 4 friends, who she has outlived. To compensate, James pretends to be each guest in turn. Part of this act involves drinking their (alcoholic) beverages while making a toast for each course. These 16 drinks in the 20 minutes of the sketch leave James more than a little inebriated and result in some slapstick comedy. It's hard to spoil, even telling that much because the acting is the real reason to watch. 

James is an already-clumsy but devoted butler and the actor does a wonderful job feigning increased drunkenness. His act alone is hilarious. But, it would be incomplete without Miss Sophie. She encapsulates the upper-class British stereotype perfectly and it's amazing that she manages to keep a straight face through the antics.

One of many drinks! (source:

The entire skit is predictable (perhaps not the very end), but that's part of its charm. I could also see drinking games and parties centered around the film adding to its appeal. But the greatest thing about it is that it is a strange bit of culture that manages to bring a country together. It's something everyone can enjoy and only requires 20 minutes of attention.

Whether you've seen it or not, I recommend adding it to your New Year's traditions.