Grand Hotel – 1931 – 1932
Grand Hotel was a grand movie. There were big stars, big sets, and big drama. It had an ensemble cast that included Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Berry, and Lionel Barrymore. Those were some pretty big names back then, so it was a pretty big deal. I’m not surprised it was given the Outstanding Picture award.
The plot was an intriguing tapestry of different stories as they overlapped and intertwined. It was interesting to see how one story affected another and how the writer made the characters easily jump from one story to another. The characters were all likable at times and unlikable at other times. To me, that made them all the more realistic. But for all the grand scale of the film, the overall plot was remarkably simple and easy to follow. True, some of the dialogue was a bit melodramatic and some scenes were a little over-acted, but it was still fun to watch.
The first thing about the film that really stood out to me was Greta Garbo. I have never seen any of her other films, but I have always heard her name mentioned as one of the superstars of her time. I never understood why until I watched Grand Hotel. She seemed to steal the screen in every scene she was in. She effortlessly drew my attention away from all of her famous co-stars. She was gorgeous and captivating to watch. I didn’t always like her character. I don’t think I was supposed to. But even then, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Greta Garbo? OK – I get it now.
Interesting note: I now understand where that famous line “I want to be alone” comes from.
Another member of the cast that I liked watching was Wallace Beery. At first I was sympathetic to his character, but as the plot progressed he did a good job of showing his true colors. He was not a very likeable man and by the end, I was satisfied that he would get what he deserved. He also had to work with an accent, which is not always easy for an actor to do. But he pulled it off well enough without sounding fake.
Another thing I liked about the film was the costumes and the sets, both of which were beautiful. I bet this movie would have been absolutely fabulous to watch if it had been in color. The set for the hotel lobby alone must have been a magnificent sight, though I think it was actually diminished somewhat because it was in black and white.
One disappointment, however, was the music. For the most part, I don’t remember there being any original music to the score. It was all nice classical music, which was fine, but I think a big sweeping original score (something like the John Williams score for the 1995 version of Sabrina) would have made the movie that much more grand.
The star power alone was enough to bring the movie to Academy Award status. The wide scope of the plot and elegant setting certainly didn’t hurt either. It was a good drama, but there were plenty of moments of light hearted banter and even a bit of comedy.
But watch out for the last line of the movie. “Grand Hotel. People come and go. Nothing ever happens.” After all the interesting stories, that line left me a bit confused. You never really get to know the character who says it, or understand why he says it, unless he is just trying to demonstrate the ennui of the rich and powerful.