"Grand Hotel... always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens." --Doctor Otternschlag, Grand HotelThis film prescribes to the belief (still prevalent in films today) that if you pack enough stars into one film it will have to be a hit. Although this is not always the case, with the amount of talent bursting at the seams of this movie, it is impossible for it to fail. And it doesn't. Through sometimes plodding in its pace, Grand Hotel weaves an interlocking collection of stories together in unexpected but ultimately satisfying ways.
|Joan Crawford as Flaemmchen|
|Greta Garbo as Grusinskaya|
|Flaemmchen and Preysing|
|Flaemmchen and the Baron|
Preysing is worried. If his merger doesn't go through, his company is sunk. But the merger will only come through if "The Manchester Company" agrees to do business with him. His lawyer hires Flaemmchen, a beautiful stenographer with aspirations to act, to assist him before the meeting. Kringelein throws a fit because he wants a much better room than he has, and is finally accommodated. The Baron befriends the hapless Kringelein, and the two of them meet Flaemmchen as she waits outside Preysing's room. The Baron makes a date with Flaemmchen for the next night at 5pm, while waiting to see if he can catch a glimpse of Grusinskaya, to whom he has been sending frequent gifts. Grusinskaya has been performing badly, and is suffering from bouts of melancholy that make her unable to sleep or dance, which in turn causes her staff to tear their hair out in frustration. Returning from an incomplete dancing engagement, she turns everyone out of her room, uttering her famous line, "I want to be alone." What she doesn't realize is that the Baron, up to his ears in gambling debts, has been coerced into stealing her priceless pearl necklace and is now trapped inside her room. He reveals himself to her, while confessing that he has also fallen in love with her. She tries again to send him away by repeating her famous line, but he stays and she finds herself falling for him as well.
|Grusinskaya and the Baron|
|Grusinskaya and the Baron|
|Preysing stops Flaemmchen and Kringelein|
|Preysing and Flaemmchen|
|Flaemmchen witnesses the Baron's death|
|Kringelein gambling with the Baron and Dr. Otternschlag|
|Flaemmchen and Kringelein|
Irving Thalberg, "Boy Wonder" and creative mind behind MGM, purchased the rights to Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum and first produced a successful Broadway play before turning it into a film. Before Grand Hotel, it was considered too costly to have more than one or two big stars per picture. But Thalberg decided to launch the first "all star" film and choose five top MGM stars to play the major roles. While both Barrymores agreed, Garbo, Beery, and Crawford all had their doubts. Greta Garbo thought 27 was too old to play a ballerina, and only agreed after she was given control over who played her love interest in the film. Beery thought the role would be too unsympathetic and damaging for his image, finally agreeing after Thalberg told him he would be the only one with a German accent. Lastly, Crawford had to be persuaded into the role, as she thought that most of her scenes would be censored and she would lose screen time. She wasn't completely wrong; theaters in more conservative states cut her racier scenes.
|Flaemmchen and Preysing|
When Thalberg eventually got everyone on set, things went a little more smoothly. The famously reclusive Garbo surprisingly got along well with John Barrymore, even allowing the publicity department to take rare behind-the-scenes photos. She requested that the love scenes in rehearsal be lit with red lighting so as to be more romantic. Garbo and Crawford never appeared in the same scene together, so that one wouldn't upstage the other. The director, Edmund Goulding, did decide to add more Garbo scenes after previewing the film, concerned that Crawford was stealing the show. All the hard work and risk paid off; after a star-studded opening night, Grand Hotel would turn out to be one of biggest grossing MGM films of all time. Grand Hotel has the dubious honor of being the only film to win "Best Picture" but not be nominated for any other category. Incidentally, to prevent last year's disaster, the Academy made a rule that prohibited speech-making at the Awards. This would also be the year that Walt Disney would win an "Special Award" for creating Mickey Mouse, and winners' names would be broadcast on a screen behind them with a small clip of their film.
|Barrymore and Garbo backstage|
|Filming of Grand Hotel|
The best description I can come up with for this film is "luxurious." The women vamp their way through the film with low, throaty voices, dressed in silk stockings and robes. The men wear expensive suits and plow their way through the film with heavy, important dialogue. It is a melodrama, and it is as though the director is attempting to pack as much action as he can into each scene while still muffling the whole thing with expensive decor.
I don't suppose I'm making much sense. Put it this way: this movie has rich people fighting, falling in love, falling in lust, dying, and gambling. We as the audience are both very aware of the humanity of the main characters while simultaneously marveling at how fabulous they all are. It's fun! It's like watching an old Hollywood soap opera with better acting but less overt sex. The thing about movies like this, however, is that they cause the audience to focus on who the actors are rather than the parts they are playing. The entire movie, I didn't think that Grusinskaya was doing something, but rather that Greta Garbo was. Some parts were a little slow, and it was difficult to focus because the plot really didn't matter. New characters kept popping up all the time, each with a new story or problem.
The best part was discovering these old Hollywood actors. Isn't Greta Garbo gorgeous, in a surreal, otherworldly kind of way? And looking through these pictures, don't you desperately wish you had Joan Crawford's legs? And watching both Barrymores allowed me to compare them to the current famous Barrymore, John's granddaughter Drew. The stars make the film, without them this film would be just another 1930s melodrama. It is worth watching just for the thrill of seeing incredible actors waltz around a plush hotel, draping themselves over divans and uttering "I want to be alone." Hell, it's worth it just to hear that one line.