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."
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.
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."
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
Greta and John
She capitulates and surrends: "For just a minute, then." A breathlessly romantic scene.
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."
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
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.
Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, and Lewis Stone
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."