“Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”
Grand Hotel is one of the best films to have been made in the 1930s and to me one of the best acted and casted of the decade. It took me a while to watch this film but I am glad I did because I can appreciate all the actors’ performances since I have seen each of them in other films. Stories of each of the characters mix and come together in touching as well as funny ways.
Berlin’s Grand Hotel is one of the best places in the whole city. People of wealth and status come and go every day. The latest of the upper class to arrives are General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) head of a large company looking to expand to Manchester, England; Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore)who despite his title does not have that much money; and the elusive and moody ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo).
Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) is one guest who does not come wealth and has no status in society. He is a book keeper looking for some rest. All his life he has worked and now he has a terminal illness and for once he wants to stay at the Grand Hotel. Felix sees that the hotel staff is giving Kringelein a hard time about staying in a room so he kindly offers the man his own sweet and takes another room. Felix is able to get a room nearer to Grusinskaya which works in his advantage.
Presying has requested the services of a stenographer to dictate some notes to. A young fresh faced woman named Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) has been sent to help him. The first person she meets is not the General but the baron. Felix sees the young girl standing by herself outside of Preysing’s door and decides to talk to her. He thinks she is a girl for hire but she immediately sets things straight. There is an attraction between the two but it is not a lust attraction is an attraction stemming from their mutual loneliness. Kringelein comes out of his room wanting to go dancing and have Felix come with him for a drink. He wants Flaem to come along as well after she is done working with Preysing.
Down the hall the ballerina is depressed. She does not want to go to the theater and perform she just wants to be alone. Grusinskaya is forced to go by her maid and (possibly) her agent. While the ballerina is gone Felix sees his chance to get into her room. Felix may be a Baron but he is flat broke. His family will not give him money so he became a con artist and thief. Felix climbs across his balcony and Preysing’s to get to Grusinskaya’s room to steal her expensive pearls. Unfortunately Grusinskaya has ran away from the theater and returned before Felix could leave the room. He could not leave the way he entered through the balconies because Preysing was standing out on his. When Grusinskaya comes in he pretends to be an admirer and he will not leave. He spends the night in her room and the next day she is incredibly happy in love. Felix promises he will go with her to the next country she is set to perform him although he needs money. She tells him she can pay for his train ticket but he refuses saying he needs to get the money himself.
Felix tries to get money by gambling and takes Kringelein along with him. The book keeper winds up winning more money than he has ever seen in his life. Felix tries to steal the money but he sees how upset the man is over the missing money he gives it back. He then tries Preysing’s room but it does not go well.
When Preysing completed his business he presents Flaem with a proposition: he is going to be spending quite some time in Manchester now that his new deal went through and he wants her to go with him as his personal secretary. Flaem reads between the lines and knows that he just wants her around his mistress. She wants to see the world and experience new things and how could she pass up the opportunity when he has promised to buy her new clothes and pay her whatever she wants.
In the end everyone’s loneliness or wealth or their not being wealthy leads to either their down fall or to their realization they are no longer lonely.
This is one of the best casted films I have ever seen; everyone was perfect in their roles. Lionel and John Barrymore’s characters were my favorites. Lionel was wonderfully comedic and light as Kringelein. He was a man everyone could relate to: he worked hard all his life and just wanted some enjoyment out of it he wanted to spend his money the way he wanted and be comfortable. John was so romantic and charming. Some of my favorite scenes are between the two brothers, especially where John kisses Lionel on the head after Kringelein has won his money. John’s scenes with Greta Garbo were amazing. Garbo was incredible. I can truly see why she is considered one of Hollywood’s greatest actresses. She was gorgeous when she was happy and so believable. Joan Crawford never looked or acted better. Her last scene with Lionel Barrymore was so touching so sincere. I have never seen Wallace Beery in a film before but he was great as Preysing.
The cinematography adds greatly to the allure and beauty of the hotel. I like we are given glimpses of all the guests coming and going in the beginning and the next day we are given glimpses of the new arrivals. Both beginning and ending shots are excellent to give us the feeling that this is just a fleeting night in a busy hotel. The shadows in this film are great.
MGM was incredibly smart putting this cast of famous actors into one film. Grand Hotel was a huge success and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1932. The stories of these characters are relatable even to this day which is one of the reasons this film has held up so well over so many decades. Often times a film that tells the individual stories of so many characters then they come together at the end does not work or it comes off slow and boring but with Grand Hotel it works out wonderfully and beautifully. Grand Hotel is a great film and one that all classic film lovers will enjoy.