Directed By: Edmund Goulding
Starring: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford
Tag line: "Thank The Stars For A Great Entertainment !"
Trivia: This was the only Best Picture Oscar winner not to be nominated for any other Academy Awards
There was something magical about the movies of the 1930s, when films told big stories, and required even bigger stars to tell them. Classics like The Champ, Captain Blood, My Man Godfrey, It Happened One Night, The Thin Man, and many others did their part to put Hollywood on the map during these early years, yet no film was quite as elaborate, quite as magnificent as 1932's Grand Hotel.
The setting is Berlin's finest lodgings, aptly named the Grand Hotel. Baron von Geigern (John Barrymore) has both the title and bearing of an aristocrat, yet is, in reality, a notorious jewel thief. He's checked into the hotel in order to steal a pearl necklace that belongs to the world-famous ballerina, Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), who's staying in an adjoining room. Ultimately, the Baron fails to obtain the necklace, but succeeds in stealing the temperamental dancer's heart. A few doors down is Mr. Preysing (Wallace Beery), an executive with a nasty disposition, who's hired Ms. Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), a secretary, to accompany him to the hotel so that he may catch up on his correspondences. While there, Preysing runs into Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), a sad, sickly man who works in the accounting department of Preysing's firm. Kringelein is terminally ill, and has spent his entire life savings on a room at the hotel, all in the hopes of experiencing a little of the high life before reaching the end of the line.
Grand Hotel was the first bona-fide 'star-studded extravaganza' ever produced in Hollywood, and its stars certainly did their part to make it a memorable one. Wallace Beery bellows and huffs as the egotistical Mr. Preysing, a man who's used to getting his own way. His arrogant demeanor will ultimately bring about a tragic turn of events. Joan Crawford is sexy in the role of Ms. Flaemmchen, perhaps a bit sexier than I would have thought possible for a film made in 1932. Her Ms. Flaemmchen is alluring enough to capture any man's heart, and she damn near captures all of them. John Barrymore and Greta Garbo generate a great deal of passion as star-crossed lovers who throw caution to the wind, undertaking an intense love affair despite the fact they've only just met. Then there's Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Kringelein, the everyman who longs to live like a king. Like us, Kringelein is an outsider to this world of opulence, which essentially makes him our guide through the course of the film. In a lively barroom scene, Kringelein lives out the dream of every employee when he stands up to his boss, Mr. Preysing, and tells the self-important executive exactly what he thinks of him. Lionel Barrymore, who became well-known years later for his role as the villainous Mr. Potter in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, is Grand Hotel's lone heroic figure, a man who maintains his moral bearing to the very end.
If you're looking for the one film that exemplifies everything that made the movies of the '30s great, then I would recommend a short stay at Grand Hotel. Chock full of romance, drama, humor and tragedy, Grand Hotel is quite grand, indeed.