Friday, October 9, 2009

Grand Hotel (1932)

1933's Best Picture about the Grand Hotel in Berlin was very Grand, and very ... hotely. For the first time ever, an ensemble cast of top actors was brought together.

Greta Garbo, the prima donna actress who was not as good as she thought she was, plays a prima donna ballet dancer who is not as good as she thinks she is. John Barrymore plays a "Barron". I don't want to spoil anything, but since when as a character introduced as a Barron actually BEEN a Barron? Let's pretend, shall we?

John's slightly older brother Lionel plays the aged Otto, an office worker with an unnamed terminal illness (AIDS? Nawww ...) who is blowing his life's savings to enjoy himself, for once. Wallace Beery (Uncle of Noah Beery Jr from Inherit the Wind) plays Otto's boss, The Angry German Giant, who is trying to make a very important business deal. Joan Crawford is his hot young stenographer who spends much of the time scrubbing toilets and screaming about coat hangers.

The Giant wants to plow Joan, who might be willing because she "needs the money". But Joan would rather be plowed by the Barron, who was initially very agreeable. But the Barron instead falls in plow with Garbo, who charmed him with her mediocre looks and bad acting. Garbo falls for the Barron because his mother used to call him "Flix". This made sense in 1932, I'm guessing.

The Barron, who also needs money, finds it easier on his conscience to steal it rather than accept hand outs from Otto and Garbo. Doing the Giant is entirely out of the question. Then we have a climactic scene, comeuppance comes up, situations are mostly resolved, and no one gets plowed. I think. Oh, yea, and there's this morose doctor who bookends the film by saying "People come, people go. Never ever happens." That's called irony, boys and girls.

First let's chat about Joan Crawford. I'm old enough to remember the OLD Joan Crawford from the 1970s. Nasty, ugly, severe. I didn't expect to like her. But the young Crawford was hot and charming on screen. I had never seen Greta Garbo before except in very short clips. Clearly she cut her acting teeth during the silent film days, where over-the-top acting was de regueur. 1932 audiences certainly ate this up, but I found it comical. It is in this film that she recites her signature phrase "I want to be alone".

John Barrymore was a stage actor, so he knew how to talk on stage. He's the grandfather of Drew Barrymore, so forget what I said in "You Can't Take it With You". Lionel seems to play the same character. Old and amicable, even though he was only a couple years older than the dashing Barron.

There's a lot of scuttle about the film. Because Joan and Greta did not get along, they had no scenes together. The director feared they would try to upstage each other. A fearful arms race to be sure. Beery initially rejected the assignment, but was convinced to stay because his character would be the only one with a German accent, even though ALL the characters except Garbo were German. This also stands as the only Best Picture winner that didn't get nominated for any other award.

Grand Hotel is a good film and I'm glad I watched it. I don't see renting it again. AMRU 3.5. Hey, it's October. I'm going to stick to horror for now.

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