Berlin's plushest, most expensive hotel is the setting where in the words of Dr. Otternschlag "People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.". The doctor is usually drunk so he missed the fact that Baron von Geigern is broke and trying to steal eccentric dancer Grusinskaya's pearls. He ends up stealing her heart instead.
Powerful German businessman Preysing brow beats Kringelein, one of his company's lowly bookkeepers but it is the terminally ill Kringelein who holds all the cards in the end. Meanwhile, the Baron also steals the heart of Preysing's mistress, Flaemmchen, but she doesn't end up with either one of them in the end...
Greta Garbo ... Grusinskaya
John Barrymore ... Baron Felix von Geigern
Joan Crawford ... Flaemmchen
Wallace Beery ... Preysing
Lionel Barrymore ... Otto Kringelein
Lewis Stone ... Dr. Otternschlag
Jean Hersholt ... Senf
Robert McWade ... Meierheim
Purnell Pratt ... Zinnowitz
Ferdinand Gottschalk ... Pimenov
Director: Edmund Goulding
Won Oscar for Best Picture
Codecs: DivX 5 / MP3
Some seventy-odd years after its release in 1932, GRAND HOTEL today holds an interesting attraction more for the presence of its two leading ladies than from its cinematic power, although there will be some purists who will state that because the images of Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo have been immortalized in their own respective canons, that in itself is cinematic power. I personally won't argue, preferring to stick to my own personal views instead of following the herd.
I've seen GRAND HOTEL twice now, and I'll grant it that despite its soap-opera like story lines, there seems to be something a little deeper going on which is only alluded to in the sidelines: the delicate tightrope which Flammchen (Joan Crawford) walks on as she is courted by Presyling (Wallace Beery) and later on decides to stay by Otto Kringelein's (Lionel Barrymore) side. This was most probably unintentional since sources state that the screenplay follows the story closely, but today's values would have Flammchen behave much differently. I find her character to be the moral opposite of Barbara Stanwyck's amoral Lily Powers in BABY FACE, another woman who uses her sexuality to advance to the top. Joan Crawford's Flammchen doesn't actively use her charms as sort of glide by while positively glowing and stealing all of the light from Garbo, and one can sense that were she of a much different nature, all of the men in GRAND HOTEL would have a dangerous young woman to deal with, and Barrymore's end would be similar to J. Howard Marshall's demise in the hands of (a much smarter, less coked-up) Anna Nicole Smith. She'd more than likely wind up owning the hotel herself in no time.
But not to digress. The plot moves along in a nice pace thanks to Goulding's direction; never does it linger on too much on one specific character, though at least for me, anytime Garbo was on screen the story came to a crashing halt. I'm going to get a lot of flack from rabid Garbo fans, but I don't get "her allure, her mystery," the essence that made her so intriguing. At twenty-seven, she already looks ten years older thanks to her severe nature. Her face is constantly in a frown, moody, full of angst reflected in her throaty voice. Her performance is so atrociously mannered I can see Jennifer Jason Leigh easily out-doing her, but better, more authentic (anyone who recalls her exacting yet eccentric portrayal of Dorothy Parker can easily see her becoming and improving Garbo). I never got to see what her character with the unpronounceable name was all about; no true trauma, just this death-wish to be "left alone." Then she capriciously takes on with the Baron von Geigern (a dashing yet shady John Barrymore) who is more interested in her jewels but tells her he could love her; he out-acts her at every turn with subtlety and genuine charm even when his part seems underwritten. In short, Garbo, for all her "mystique" is the sore thumb of GRAND HOTEL.
I much prefer the events surrounding Crawford and the older Barrymore. Lionel Barrymore, the horrible villain from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, plays a meek former bookkeeper who is at the end of his life and wants to enjoy his stay at the hotel. His wish is quite simple: he wants to enjoy his last days, a diametric opposite to Garbo who wants to be alone (and she says it three times). He teams up with Crawford, enjoys a dance with her and falls for her even though she's much too young. All the time I got the sensation he knew the character of Kringelein, a man who has been pushed around by Preysling and is still not quite free of his micromanaging shadow. There is not a shed of ego in his performance. One can imagine seeing Crawford reach out to the older gentleman and actually making his days happier and is a fitting ending to her own storyline as she is lecherously pursued by Wallace Beery and romanced by John Barrymore. If anything, her character is the most sympathetic of the five main characters and the symbol of the emerging modern woman of the Thirties: ambitious but girlish, efficient but not a workaholic, smart and independent despite struggling to make ends meet.
GRAND HOTEL hasn't aged well. Its values were the thing back in the Depression era, showing glossy characters who were all looking for some form of security while surrounded by the exuberance of the hotel and who were not given much depth in their characterizations. The characters are more or less archetypes and are predicted to act in a certain way, and when their fates collide, it's (now) not a surprise. Now, what it did do was set the standard for lavish productions involving a roster of well-known actors and stars in a perfect balance of talent and star-power, most notably seen today in the films of Woody Allen and Robert Altman, but closer to the less intellectually challenging type of high-profile film seen in the 50s and throughout the 70s. I enjoyed it then and now and regard it as a classic film set in a pre-Code Hollywood that has its own ancient beauty, for more reasons than Garbo's mannered face.
* There are no scenes where Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford are in the same frame. This was done to eliminate the possibility that one of the two great stars might upstage the other.
* Joan Crawford was irked by Greta Garbo's insistence on top billing and decided to take her revenge. Knowing that Garbo loathed tardiness and Marlene Dietrich in equal measures, Crawford played Dietrich records between shots and made sure to arrive late on set.
* The only Best Picture Oscar winner not to be nominated for any other Academy Awards.
* MGM bought the film rights for $35,000 and had already made a profit from the material thanks to the Broadway play.
* Buster Keaton was first choice to play the Lionel Barrymore part
* Greta Garbo turned down the role not because she refused to share the spotlight, but because she believed that at 27 she was too old to play a prima ballerina.
* Greta Garbo wanted John Gilbert to play her lover but his recent lackluster box office record precluded that.
* John Barrymore accepted a three-picture deal with MGM just for the chance to appear with Greta Garbo.
* Wallace Beery also turned down his part, only to take it again when promised that he would be the only actor to act in the film with a German accent.
* Both Greta Garbo and John Barrymore were very wary about working with each other. In actuality they got on quite well, to the extent that she allowed rare backstage photos of them be taken.
* Greta Garbo requested the stage be lit in red to create a more romantic atmosphere for rehearsals.
* The ensemble cast never actually all appeared together.
* Extra scenes with Greta Garbo were added after previews to ensure that Joan Crawford didn't walk off with the picture.
* The quote "I want to be alone" spoken by Greta Garbo in this movie was listed at #30 in AFI List of Top 100 Quotes From U.S. Films.
* Author and playwright Vicki Baum based "Menschen im Hotel" both on a true story about a scandal at a hotel involving a stenographer and an industrial magnate, and on her own experiences working as a chambermaid at two well-known Berlin hotels.
* During the filming of the busy lobby scenes, the socks were worn on the outside of the actors' shoes to prevent noise. Reportedly two hundred pairs of woolen socks were worn out daily.
* The role of Suzette was intended for Pauline Frederick but she was forced to pull out due to illness.