GRAND HOTEL (1932) B/W 113m dir: Edmund Goulding
w/Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Hersholt, Robert McWade, Purnell Pratt, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Rafaela Ottiano
This MGM superstar vehicle makes for classy entertainment, with John Barrymore as a jewel thief romancing a very tired ballerina played by Garbo. Lionel Barrymore has but a few months to live, but is making the most of it despite the soggy presence of boss Beery, a gross industrialist, who is out to bed stenographer Crawford.
From The Movie Guide: "Gleaming deco dinosaur, [producer Irving] Thalberg's pet, and the most legendary all-star movie ever made; a tribute to all that 'stars' and glamour used to be in Hollywood's vanished Golden Age. ...
"If DINNER AT EIGHT, made a year later, has held up far better as a picture because it comments upon the rich and famous, HOTEL set the standard of those who don't achieve the twin pinnacles. Don't expect a particularly lucid screenplay or even acting of a high order; this masterpiece is hopelessly dated, directed by Goulding in the grand manner, and supported by [art director Cedric] Gibbons's, [cinematographer William] Daniels's, and [costume designer] Adrian's opulent work.
"Revival house audiences laugh today at Garbo, with her permanently furrowed brow and her weird little bobby pin that holds back her hair. But striding through the hotel's lobby, swathed in chinchilla, remote in her fabled Swedish melancholy, 'acting' hope swirling above a heavy heart, she really is the most extraordinary monstre sacre the screen will ever know.
"Secondly, there's a surprisingly warm vixen by the name of Joan Crawford, who steals GRAND HOTEL. Even though her face looks like a deco statue's --- perhaps the most beautiful eyes and nose ever photographed --- she's brimming like a livewire of ambitious current. She's a legend, too --- the chorus girl who became a great star. Here she wants top-rung stardom badly, and it shows. Today, with her little black dresses and casual hair, she looks almost modern. Curious that she holds up better than anyone else and only bears a passing resemblance to the bitch goddess people insist on remembering her as. She's marvelously in awe of John Barrymore, and very good indeed reaching out to Lionel. It's a part that exploits Crawford's most likable quality --- her loyalty.
"John Barrymore is all continental matinee-idol charm. If it seems hammy and somewhat affected today --- though Barrymore is never effete --- just guffaw through the current Broadway revival to be reminded of the sadness of this vanishing breed. Lionel's performance may be his best --- this was before the scenery chewing of later years. But for scenery chewing, Wallace Beery is on hand. He's so thoroughly disagreeable and dense that it somehow works.
"GRAND HOTEL remains a classic of its kind. MGM shrewdly marketed this film by withholding its general release for many months after its Hollywood premiere, allowing a tremendous word-of-mouth campaign to heighten expectation from viewers and critics alike. And the critics cheered, along with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which voted the film an Oscar for Best Picture. The enormous success of GRAND HOTEL set the stage for many all-star films to come. In 1945, GRAND HOTEL was remade as the lightweight WEEKEND AT THE WALDORF with Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson, and Edward Arnold in the lead roles."
G. Allen Johnson's article on the film from the San Francisco Chronicle (sfgate.com), 6-21-18: "Forget Garbo; the Barrymores and Joan Crawford are key to Grand Hotel:
"The Grand Hotel in Berlin in the waning days of the Weimar Republic was famously the place where 'people come, people go. Nothing ever happens.'
"Except on this night in Irving Thalberg’s mega-production for MGM, which brought together five of its top roster of stars — Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford — in an ensemble piece directed by Edmund Goulding that was one of the biggest early sound hits and won the Oscar for best picture.
"To this day, it is the only best picture winner not to have been nominated in any other category, but that was only because the supporting actor and actress categories had yet too be created, and there are some wonderful performances here.
"Strangely, that does not include Garbo. She had the big line in the movie — 'I want to be alone,' with which she was forever associated; and the big romance, with down-on-his-luck thief John Barrymore. But it is one of her least effective performances, overly dramatic and broad (parodied by Marion Davies later that year in Blondie of the Follies, with Jimmy Durante as her Barrymore).
"Yes, Grand Hotel is playing this weekend at the Berkeley Art Museum’s Pacific Film Archive as part of its Garbo retrospective (7 p.m. Sunday, June 24, 2155 Center St., Berkeley; 510-642-0808; www.bampfa.org), but the real reasons to see it are Barrymore, Barrymore and Crawford, the beating hearts of the picture.
"They play life’s unlucky losers, victims of the arrogant and wealthy. Cruelty is the path to power, according to author Vicki Baum, an Austrian Jew who worked as a parlor maid in a Berlin hotel for six weeks as research for her novel Menschen im Hotel (People at a Hotel), which was adapted into a Broadway play and then the film.
"The villain of Grand Hotel is Preysing (Beery), an industrialist trying to save his company through a proposed merger. He hires Flaemmchen (Crawford), a beautiful young woman who is, this week at least, working as a stenographer, but his interest in her heads in an unprofessional direction.
"Preysing is also, indirectly, the cause of the many troubles of Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), a decades-long employee at Preysing’s factory. He has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and lacking proper health care, he decides to spend his meager life savings living as a big shot for a few days at a swanky Grand Hotel suite.
"Baron Felix von Geigern (John Barrymore) is living under something of a death sentence himself. Once wealthy, he has fallen on hard times, and to erase a heavy debt that might get him killed, he books himself into the Grand Hotel to steal his way out of trouble. His target: the pearl necklace of Grusinskaya (Garbo), the high-maintenance famous Russian ballerina whose self-absorption and prima donna persona drive everyone around her this short of crazy.
"The problem with the baron is that he is too nice. He falls in love with Grusinskaya; forget the pearls. He could steal the life savings of Kringelein, but he likes him too much, and defends him against Preysing, whose type of overbearing sense of entitlement is something the baron has dealt with before.
"His defense of Kringelein and confrontations with Preysing win him the admiration of Flaemmchen. Together, the three of them — the dying salaryman, the working-class girl and the disgraced baron — form a common bond of kindness and humility out of step with the times.
The scenes between the Barrymores truly do project a sense of brotherly love. Crawford was so good that Thalberg added two weeks of shooting to beef up Garbo’s part so Crawford couldn’t steal the picture.
"But she did, anyway. Grand Hotel is still a pretty good film, but one wonders how it played before the Garbo additions. Gonna guess it was even better."