Grand Hotel (1932) Review

Grand Hotel (1932) Director: Edmund Goulding

“Always the same. People come. People go. Nothing ever happens.”


It was the early 1930s and the wunderkind of MGM, Irving Thalberg, could seemingly do no wrong! Thanks to the golden boy’s touch, MGM managed to be one of the few profitable film studios through the Great Depression. The Best Picture winner in 1932, Grand Hotel offers a glamorous romp through old Hollywood, perhaps a bit of foreshadowing of what’s to come. Grand Hotel 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 Grusinskaya (the dancer), John Barrymore as Baron Felix von Gaigern, Joan Crawford as Flaemmchen, Wallace Beery as General Director Preysing, and Lionel Barrymore as Otto Kringelein –it was popularly dubbed “the greatest cast ever assembled.” For his efforts, Director Edmund Goulding acquired the nickname “Lion Tamer” resulting from his ability to deal with so many temperamental Hollywood stars.

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 war veteran 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.

Image result for grand hotel 1932

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