Title: Grand Hotel
Release Date: 12 April 1932
Oscar Ceremony: 18 November 1932
Director: Edmund Goulding
Starring: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore & Joan Crawford
Finally, a movie that’s more my type. I think out of the first five Best Picture winners, this is my favourite so far. I’m not saying it’s objectively the best, but considering my personal tastes, it’s the lesser of five evils (as it were). It’s also the first movie that features stars I’ve actually heard of but never really seen in action. One of them is the great Swedish-American actress Greta Garbo. The most interesting one to see however was John Barrymore, who happens to be Drew Barrymore’s grandpa. I knew she came from a family of Hollywood acting, but it was nice to put a face to the name.
Viewers are introduced to Grand Hotel‘s characters in the credits at the beginning; we see a picture of an actor, his/her name and the character he/she is playing. Then, the movie starts with a montage of various phone conversations in the hotel that give us some context and background on the characters, as well as a taste of what’s to come.
Here’s a quick setting and situation recap for you:
Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) is an old-ish man who has recently discovered that he “hasn’t got much long to live.” As a result, he decides to make the most of his life and spend his last days wallowing in luxury at Berlin’s most expensive hotel, The Grand Hotel. It’s so grand, even his boss General Director Preysing is staying there.
General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) is in town to negotiate a company merger at a conference. He doesn’t seem very likeable; he’s rude and has quite the temper. He hires a young woman named Flaemmchen to be his stenographer, but eventually things get a bit more complicated than that.
Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) is an aspiring actress who is doing whatever she can to further her career. She starts off as quite cynical and standoffish, but eventually softens up and starts developing a thing for The Baron and a friendship with Kringelein.
Felix von Geigern (John Barrymore), mostly referred to as The Baron, is an oh-so-charming gentleman and smooth talker. He flirts with Flaemmchen and befriends Kringelein. However, don’t be fooled by his title; he’s pretty much broke and he’s at the hotel in order to steal some expensive pearls from a famous dancer, Grusinskaya. Deep down, he’s still a good man; he’s just desperate and misled.
Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) is a ballet dancer who is currently performing at a local venue in Berlin. She’s no longer in her prime and she is very worried and depressed. All she wants to do is sleep all day. She has a bunch of people taking care of her, but everyone has to tip-toe around her because she is so fragile. Eventually, she falls in love with The Baron while catching him in her room, and she instantly lights up.
These characters’ lives intermingle and the plot thickens, but I’m sorry to say that this movie ends on a fairly melancholic note. In a way though, it’s very representative of life in general. There’s a secondary character in the movie, Doctor Otternschlag, who opens and closes the movie with a remark: “Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.” Think about it.
A few random thoughts:
- When people have conversations in this movie, they really like to get in each other’s personal space. They are often within an inch of their faces. Just take a look for yourself:Was this a thing back then? Is it just confrontational? I guess I’ll never know. I think it’s fine if they’re about to kiss or something, but most of the time I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. These are the kind of thoughts that pop into my mind while watching movies.
- The Baron has a dog, and that dog does not get nearly as much screen time as he should. I get really excited when I see dogs in old movies because I feel like it’s the one thing that really connects our lives to people’s lives back then. Their clothes are different, their way of talking is different, their lifestyle is different… and yet they still had pets and loved them just like we do today. Plus, they’re just really cute and brighten any scene they’re in. Here’s to Adolphus, the baron’s dachshund. His breed even fits with the whole German theme. How perfect is that?
- Why is everyone German? When the character names were being introduced in the credits at the beginning, I asked myself that question. The answer turns out to be quite simple: the movie is based (amongst others) on the novel Menschen im Hotel (People in the Hotel) by Austrian-born writer Vicki Baum. I think that the original title would have been better suited for this movie, but then again Grand Hotel does sound more like an Oscar-winning movie. It’s nice that they kept the original character names and German feel though.
- Revolving doors have always been problematic. Can we just get rid of them already? This was probably the most relatable scene in the movie:
- I don’t really get what the fuss is with Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. Well, I do and I don’t. The thing is, I’m really not a fan of the style standards back then… The whole crazy-thin Betty Boop eyebrows and heavy eyelids… I find it makes women look more like odd caricatures than anything else. Nonetheless, they were both suited for the part and I have absolutely nothing against them.
If you watch the movie, you’ll notice that these two leading ladies never actually appear in a scene together. Apparently it was to avoid competition and one star outshining the other. Hm.
- Fun fact: The fifth Academy Awards Ceremony is also when Walt Disney got his first Oscar, a special mention for the creation of Mickey Mouse. It’s interesting to realize how long ago that was, and what an impact he still has today.
Overall, Grand Hotel is a very well put together movie with a great cast and an eye-catching set. The Academy knows what its talking about.