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Grand Hotel

Directed by Edmund Goulding with Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Berry and Lewis Stone, based on novel by Vicki Baum, 112 minutes, 1932

Grand Hotel color poster

Poster

By Carter B. Horsley

In his review at filmsite.org/gran.html, Tim Dirks observed that "Grand Hotel" is "a classic masterpiece and all-star epic with high-powered stars of the early 1930s, adding that "The classic MGM film was directed by Edmund Goulding who acquired the nickname "Lion Tamer" for his ability to deal with many temperamental Hollywood stars, as he did in this film."

"It won the Best Picture Oscar in the year of its release - its only nomination. Only two other times has the film named Best Picture failed to win any other awards: Broadway Melody (1928/9) and Mutiny On the Bounty (1935). It is also the only film to win Best Picture without having any other nominations. With Wings (1927/28) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989), it is among the only Best Picture winners whose director wasn't also nominated," according to Mr. Dirks.

"William A. Drake's screenplay was based on his play adaptation of Vicki Baum's novel Menschen im Hotel.  The film marked the first major use of a large all-star cast that would later be copied in Dinner at Eight (1933), Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and The Towering Inferno (1974), among others. The story was glossily remade as Week-end at the Waldorf (1945), with Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, and Van Johnson, set at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel - pre-dating two films with hotel settings by many years: Arthur Hiller's Plaza Suite (1971) and Herbert Ross' California Suite (1978), both from playwright Neil Simon," according to Mr. Dirks.

Dr. Otternschlag, portrayed in the film by Lewis Stone, with a dramatically blotchy face, asks at the beginning of the movie, "What do you do in the Grand Hotel?" and answers "Eat. Sleep.  Loaf around, Flirt a little.  Dance a little.  A hundred doors leading to one hall, and no one knows anything about the person next to him."

The final well-known lines of the film are delivered in the lobby by the doctor, who, oblivious to the film's dramas, remarks: "The Grand Hotel. Always the same. People come, people go...nothing ever happens."

Well, that's not true.  A good deal happens and some of the characters are rather grand.  It may be true, however, that at a truly grand hotel, the staff never notices the vagaries, vices, and, occasional virtues, of its guests.

The film is noted for having several major stars and setting a trend for star-studded vehicles.

It has Greta Garbo, murmuring her famous "I want to be alone" line, which in fact has nothing to do with her psychological attitude but her being tired after a performance as she is, after all, a famous Russian ballerina, named Grusinskaya.  With her extravagant clothes and airs, she is exasperatingly a bit impatient to discover the dashing Baron Felix von Gaigern, played by John Barrymore, lurking in her hotel suite.  He was there to steal her jewels, but one look at her and he falls in very passionate love and begins to woo and conquer her.  She tells him he "must go now," but he says he's not going" and pleads with her to let him stay.  "But I want to be alone," she replies, and he protests that "that isn't true.  You don't want to be alone," adding "Please let me stay."

Greta and John

Greta and John

She capitulates and surrends: "For just a minute, then."  A breathlessly romantic scene.

Barrymore's brother, Lionel, is another major character, Otto Kringelein, a frail book-keeper at a factory owned by another hotel guest, Preysing, a bull of a mean businessman, played by Wallace Beery, who would win an Academy Award that year not for his gruff performance in this film, but for "The Champ."  In his January 14, 2014 review of the Blu-ray disk, Michael Reuben noted that Berry "who was then at the height of his popularity, had to be talked into taking the role and reportedly complained throughout the making of the film."


Grand Hotel tall poster

Lionel Barrymore won an Oscar the previous year for "A Free Soul" and his role here is a worker who has been told he has but a short time to live and wants to finally experience some of the good life with his meager savings.  He joins a poker game and become its big winner even as the Baron loses a lot.  The Baron befriends him and is tempted to steal his wallet but decides against it when he has a seizure.

Later, they meet at the bar on the ground floor of the hotel's spectacular circular atrium shown very dramatically at the start of the film.  The Baron introduces him to the fifth major actor, Joan Crawford, an attractive and sexy brunette stenographer  named Flammechen, who is hired by Preysing who is eager to clinch a major business contract.


Lionel

Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, and Lewis Stone

Kringelein decides to take Flaemmchen to Paris and proclaims "To life!  To the magnificent, dangerous, brief, brief, wonderful life...and the courage to live it!  Baron, I've only lived since last night, but that little while seems longer than all the time that's gone before."

In hia review at amazon.com, Casey62 notes all the stars are "in roles of equal importance, and each shines in what counts among their best performances."  "The luminous Garbo is perfect as a tired of life ballerina, her stylized acting captures just the right note of eccentricity....Crawford is radiant, chic and sensitive....Berry is the only one to affect a German accent which serves to underscore his menace....

The film is not dated as its flamboyant luxury is not alien to today's Kardashianized audiences.



This film ranks 56th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films.



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