Grand Hotel (1932) Director: Edmund Goulding
“Always the same. People come. People go. Nothing ever happens.”
Grand Hotel is a wonderful film released by MGM, a winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1932. It is one of the only films to win Best Picture without being nominated in another category. The film boasts an all-star cast with Greta Garbo as the dancer, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, John Barrymore, and Lionel Barrymore -“the greatest cast ever assembled.” Director Edmund Goulding acquired the nickname “Lion Tamer” for his ability to deal with many temperamental Hollywood stars, as in Grand Hotel. The film was the brainchild of legendary MGM producer, Irving Thalberg.
William A. Drake’s screenplay was based on his own play adaptation of author/playwright a 1929 best-selling novel “Menschen im Hotel” (translated ‘People at the Hotel’) by Vicki Baum, a former Berlin hotel chambermaid. MGM purchased the rights for $35,000. The film premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles to much fanfare.
The film both opens and closes with the musings of Doctor Otternschlag (played by Lewis Stone), an injured veteran from the war, who states that at the Grand Hotel: “people coming, going. Nothing ever happens.”
The Grand Hotel in Berlin is a ritzy, art-deco hotel from a long bygone era of class and sophistication. The plot of the film is episodic. We follow the stories of five central characters -the start of the film reveals five separate telephone conversations- including the Baron (played by John Barrymore), a broke royal who has resorted to thieving; Mr. Kringelein (played by Lionel Barrymore), a dying man looking to finish his final days spending his savings, an industrialist named Director Preysing (played by Wallace Beery), and Flaemmchen (played by Joan Crawford) who is a sternographer. The Baron flirts with Flaemmchen but then falls in love with the ballerina dancer, much to the dismay of Flaemmchen, who works for Director Preysing. However, when the Baron tries to rob the industrialist Director, he is killed by the Director sending many into grief but the hotel quickly moves on. The Director goes to jail, Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein go to Paris. The ballerina goes to her next show, thinking the Baron will be on the train.
“I want (‘vant’) to be alone” – Greta Garbo in one of her first talkies