Monday, August 31, 2015

Old Movie Review - "Grand Hotel" (1932)

I recently watched "Grand Hotel" - it was not the first time I had seen it, but the topic of this one came up on a couple of Facebook movie sites recently, so I wanted to see it again.

"Grand Hotel" is generally considered one of the best movies that "old"  Hollywood ever made, and it is certainly an important one in the sense that it was the first of its kind.  When MGM decided to make this movie, it pulled together five of the biggest stars of the day, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Wallace Beery, stars used to top billing and being the star of any vehicle in which they appeared, and put them together in the SAME MOVIE.  Unheard of at the time.  

The story consisted of several interlocking plot lines that took place over a two day period at The Grand Hotel, the poshest hotel in Berlin during the period between the world wars.  Again, this is a plot device that one sees frequently in movies today, but it was something new and different in 1932.

The whole deal worked, because "Grand Hotel" was a huge hit, and it won the Best Picture Academy Award for 1932.  Curiously, though, it was not nominated in a single other category for an Oscar that year, not for acting, directing, or writing, or any technical category.  This has never happened with the Academy Awards, before or since.

The plot lines:

  • A prima ballerina, Garbo, faces a career and a life crisis.
  • A phony "Baron", John Barrymore, is really a thief looking for a score.
  • A dying clerk, Lionel Barrymore, wants to blow everything he has by spending his last days in the luxury of the Grand Hotel.
  • A blustering businessman, Beery, has to consummate a big business deal or face ruin.
  • A young and ambitious stenographer, Crawford, is hired by Beery, and is then faced with some decisions of her own.
In other words, it's a soap opera, albeit a high class one, and to appreciate it, I suppose that you have to look at it through the lens of the audiences of 1932.  I looked up some reviews and critiques of "Grand Hotel" and while everyone recognizes the significance of "Grand Hotel" in film history, many acknowledge that it is overwrought at times and dated in many aspects.  Parts of the movie are terrific: the opening with the lead characters talking in separate phone calls that gives you the set-up for the plot lines, the images of banks of telephone operaters, and the shots from high up down into the lobby of the hotel are terrific. 

As far as the acting goes, Crawford was probably the best of the five leads.  The Barrymore brothers were quite good, although many critics acknowledge that John's performance was pretty hammy.  Beery pretty much chewed scenery throughout.  And as for Garbo, here is where I will commit heresy.  She did nothing for me.  Beautiful, yes, but as an actress, she was, well, not so hot.  I know that Garbo was and remains a Legend, but if you go by her performance in "Grand Hotel", I am here to say that the Emperor, or in this case, the Empress, has no clothes.  To that, statement, though, I make the following disclaimers:  One, this is the only movie in which I have ever seen Garbo, so I realize I shouldn't make a blanket statement like that, and, two, almost every review or write-up you find about this movie acknowledges that Garbo was terribly miscast in this role.

So, there you go...."Grand Hotel".  If you are a real fan of classic movies, I suppose it's one that you have to see, but unlike, say, "Casablanca" or "The Godfather", it's not one that I will stop on and watch to its conclusion if I should stumble across it when flipping throughout the TV channels.

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