Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Grand Hotel (1932)

Check out this film.

Grand Hotel won an Oscar for best picture in 1933. It's still worth reserving some time to watch more than 80 years after its initial release.

What a cast. There's a long line of Hollywood greats in this drama from director Edward Goulding (Dark Victory).

Greta Garbo only made 32 films in her short career. Just eight more came after this. Within 10 years her last film was in the can and she became a recluse. John Barrymore, grandfather of Drew Barrymore (ET) would be dead a decade later because of his alcoholism. Wow. Joan Crawford looks great as a stenographer who also acts an escort to well-heeled businessmen.

A series of telephone calls helps set up the film's various story lines at a posh German hotel. General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) is under the gun to close a business deal. He's married. He has a family. He's ready to act on his attractions to Flaemmchen, Crawford's character during a business trip to England. Preysing is also willing to sacrifice his ethics to make sure said deal happens.

Garbo's Grusinskaya either suffers from an acute case of stage fright or desperately needs the adulation of a packed house to keep dancing. "Their applause did not come," she laments after a performance. The Baron (John Barrymore) is, in fact, a criminal out to get Grusinskaya's pricey string of pearls. The conman who suggests his dog is the only thing he loves manages to get swept away with Grusinskaya when he gets caught in her suite after pinching her pearls. But, with no pearls, his partner-in-crime Morgan Wallace suggests death will come quick. Garbo strikes me as a little over-the-top, not to mention hard to understand at some points. Audiences do get to hear her say, "I want to be alone."

Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore, John's brother) is dying from some terminal disease. He wants to spend his last days in luxury. The Grand Hotel is where he'll die and spend what money he has saved. "I'm going to live," he vows, and takes action when he's given a dinky room after checking in. But the Grand Hotel offers Kringelein numerous ways to rejuvenate his life. He makes a killing gambling. New friendships are established. He gets to cut a rug with Flaemmchen. By golly, he just happens to be a bookkeeper at Preysing's factory. Hmmm. It's three years into the Great Depression and an industry titan is ridiculed for his behaviour. Coincidence?

The hotel's guests don't have all the fun. There's a small nod to the staff with some neat shots of the switchboard operators and a porter, Serf (Jean Hersholt), dealing with a family crisis.

Goulding keeps this film moving from story to story. There's at least one very good laugh included in all this drama that results in death and scandal. A steady stream of classical music is a bit much, but it sets the mood of high society.

Great film. Great cast. See it.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Lionel Barrymore was Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life. Potter is not quite so endearing as Kringelein.

1 comment:

Roman J. Martel said...

Need to check this one out. It's been on my "to watch" list for ages. Thanks for the review!