Grand Hotel (1932) Director: Edmund Goulding
“Always the same. People come. People go. Nothing ever happens.”
The wunderkind of MGM, Irving Thalberg, could seemingly do no wrong. The Best Picture winner in 1932, Grand Hotel offers a wonderfully glamorous picture, perhaps a bit of foreshadowing for Hollywood in the ’30s. It is curiously one of the only films to win the top award without being nominated in any other category. The film boasts an all-star cast of Greta Garbo as the dancer, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore -popular dubbed “the greatest cast ever assembled.” Director Edmund Goulding acquired the nickname “Lion Tamer” for his ability to deal with the many temperamental Hollywood stars, and Grand Hotel was no exception.
William A. Drake’s screenplay for Grand Hotel was based on his own play adaptation of a 1929 best-selling novel “Menschen im Hotel” (translated ‘People at the Hotel’) by Vicki Baum, a former Berlin hotel chambermaid. MGM purchased the movie rights for $35,000. The film premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles amid much fanfare.
Grand Hotel 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, it is “always the same. People come. People go. 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 their separate telephone conversations- including the Baron (played by John Barrymore), a broke aristocrat who has resorted to thieving; Mr. Kringelein (played by Lionel Barrymore), a dying man looking to finish his life by spending his savings, an industrial businessman named Director Preysing (played by Wallace Beery), and Flaemmchen (played by Joan Crawford) who is a stenographer. The Baron flirts with Flaemmchen but then falls in love with a ballerina dancer (played by Greta Garbo), much to the dismay of Flaemmchen, who works for Director Preysing. However, when the Baron tries to rob the industrialist Director, he is killed 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. The luxury and opulence continue onward unabated.
“I want (‘vant’) to be alone”
-Greta Garbo famously utters this line, perhaps as a nod to her famously reclusive lifestyle.