‘Grand Hotel’ won the Best Picture Oscar for 1932 and those interested in trivia will know that it is the only Best Picture winner which was not nominated for any other award. The premise is simple: a group of different characters come together at the top Berlin establishment ‘Grand Hotel’ and the film examines the characters and how they interact with each other.
It is a wonderfully exciting film. The opening sequence still has such impact on me, no matter how many times I watch it. The bustling lobby full of guests and porters, the endlessly rotating doors, the telephony staff, and then some of the biggest names of Hollywood in the 1930s appear.
The film is like an early day ‘Gosford Park’ in many ways. It is not so much about the plot, but how these characters are reacting in their circumstances and during, of course, the Depression. The characters are all different and all treated in a different way, which means that they all receive enough attention, meaning that the audience gets to know them all well in the short time of the film’s duration.
Greta Garbo is Grusinskaya, a Russian ballerina who wants to be alone and does not want to perform anymore. Midway through the film she transforms as she falls in love and becomes alive again. This is a beautiful performance from Garbo. John Barrymore is a Baron who has run out of money and charms the women in the film, acting with desperation. Joan Crawford is a stenographer: manipulative, scheming with an acidic tongue and cynical views. Lionel Barrymore is a bookkeeper spending his life savings in the Hotel as he knows that he will soon die. He is longing to be accepted and feels that people do not feel that his money is worth anything. Wallace Beery is a brutal businessman, totally dismissive of Lionel Barrymore’s actions. It is wonderful that each of them play their parts to perfection, commanding the screen, but never dominating for a second. Credit must go to Goulding for his sensitive direction in balancing these great names.
The script moves the film along at a healthy speed: frantic but always easy to follow, and is peppered with wonderful quotes, the most celebrated being, ‘Grand Hotel, always the same. People come. People go. Nothing ever happens’, which perfectly sums up how the individual character development is much more important than the plot.
From an artistic perspective, ‘Grand Hotel’ is a success as well. The hotel is stunning: with sweeping corridors which look down to the bustling reception, elaborate rooms, gorgeous costumes, wonderful use of light and shade. It is, in short, a beautifully shot film.
‘Grand Hotel’ is dated. Very dated and very melodramatic, but for two hours it manages to entertain in such a charming and fun way that I cannot help but rate this film highly. Anyone interested in what is now referred to as the Golden Age of Hollywood should watch this film as it is one of the best examples of 1930s melodrama that I can find.