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
Rafaela Ottiano ... Suzette
Morgan Wallace ... Chauffeur
Tully Marshall ... Gerstenkorn
GRAND HOTEL (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1932), directed by Edmund Goulding, from the stage production by Vicki Baum, marks one of MGM's most prestigious film projects of its day. Other than being one of those rare films of the 1930s to be constantly revived, if not overplayed, on television over the past decades, it has stood the test of time solely due its impressive all-star cast. Of the five major leading actors, top-billing goes to Greta Garbo, MGM's most important box-office star. However, unlike other Garbo films, GRAND HOTEL, is not all Garbo. She shares screen time with other top-named MGM performers, ranging from John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone. The only other big name actress to appear in this production is the very young and more down-to-earth Joan Crawford, billed third in the cast after Garbo and Barrymore, who, in fact, has more screen time than the legendary Garbo. Crawford appears a few minutes from the start of the film and her presence continues right up to its near fadeout. Garbo's character doesn't make her first appearance until 20 minutes from the start of the story and is gone some ten minutes before the film is over. While many might consider Crawford the best of the two female stars in GRAND HOTEL, Garbo, who's acting style may not work well for the more contemporary viewers, should be observed and studied here. Her role as Grusinskaya, the Russian ballerina, is performed two ways. In the early part of the story, she is lonely, depressed, striving for success. After she encounters the Baron (John Barrymore), she finds love and becomes a changed person, full of life and laughter. Watching this transformation on screen is seeing the two sides of Greta Garbo.
Edmund Goulding directs the movie, which runs at 113 minutes, at a fast pace, starting the first few minutes with overhead camera shots of numerous switchboard operators of the Grand Hotel connecting the incoming calls, followed by the brief introduction of the central characters conversing on the telephone in thehotel lobby: Senf (Jean Hersholt), the head hotel clerk, awaits the news of his wife who is about to give birth to their child; Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), a bookkeeper, diagnosed with an incurable disease who quits his job to enjoy his remaining days to the fullest; Preysing (Wallace Beery), a no-nonsense industrialist staying at the hotel to negitiate a business deal with important clients; Suzette (Rafaella Ottiano), the maid to the famous Russian dancer, Grusinskaya, who expresses concern about her employer; Baron Felix Von Greigern (John Barrymore), an adventurer traveling with his Dachshund dog, desperately in need of money to pay off a heavy debt, planning to do his latest robbery by stealing valuable jewels from the famous ballerina by entering her room after she leaves for a performance; and Otternschlag (Lewis Stone), a scarred doctor who walks about the hotel lobby, observing the goings on, and reciting to himself quietly, "Grand Hotel, people come, people go, and NOTHING ever happens!" Within these few minutes, the viewer gets an insight to these characters. Then comes Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), a stenographer with ambition, hired by Preysing as his personal secretary. She soon makes the acquaintance of the handsome Baron and the poorly dressed Kringelein. Later that evening, after the lonely and unhappy Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) leaves the hotel for the theater, the Baron sneaks into her room from the outside window to rob her. After she returns, the Baron, still in her room, hides himself, and takes notice that Grusinskaya, whose career is failing, intends on taking her own life. He suddenly appears to her, telling her that he is one of her biggest admirers. In spite of telling the Baron that she wants to be alone, the Baron remains, and even after learning of his intentions to rob her, he wins her over, thus, spending an entire night together and falling in love. The problem remains: How will the Baron be able to get money he so desperately needs? As for the other guests, will Preysing, a married man with two grown daughters who has made Flaemmchen his mistress after working hours, succeed with his business negotiations? Will Flaemmchen continue to get something out of life by not being particular on how she does it? Will ballerina Grusinskaya marry her beloved jewel thief Baron or will she go on with her career? Will Kringelein get the happiness he deserves before he succumbs? What will his hotel bill be like after he checks out from most expensive hotel in Germany? Will that kill him before his illness does?
While GRAND HOTEL could have told its stories in separate segments, it's done as one film focusing on separate characters through different time frames. Of the central characters, only Senf, the hotel clerk, played by Jean Hersholt, is the least important, but actually a character needed to fill in the void. He only appears in a few scenes unrelated to the plot. Lewis Stone's role is also secondary, but memorable, especially with his opening and closing lines. Wallace Berry, an all-American character actor, in a characterization somewhat new to him and different to his audience, is cast against type, sporting glasses, a short haircut, mustache and German accent, something similar to German character actor, Sig Rumann. Lionel Barrymore, sporting a derby, oversized clothing, thick mustache and glasses, is almost unrecognizable as Kringelein. In fact, he almost comes off best over the other major actors. Although playing a tragic figure, he does have one comedy bit, a memorable scene where he returns to his room drunk, struggling to strip himself of his clothing, belting out one big belch, and stumbling into bed. This scene alone always manages to get some laughs. The underscoring that accompanies this scene sounds like the score played from a silent comedy short. Barrymore later gets a poignant scene where, after winning a large sum of money playing cards, discovers that his wallet containing all his money, is missing, but in reality, stolen by the Baron. Nearly in tears and desperation, crawling on the floor looking for it, the wallet is later "found" by the Baron, who has had a change of heart, and returns it to him.
Fortunately, GRAND HOTEL does not play like a filmed stage play. The art decco and luxurious sets are a sight to behold. And why not? The Grand Hotel happens to be the most expensive and luxurious hotel in Berlin. While it's set in Germany, only the American Beery speaks with an accent. As for Garbo, her accent is natural.
Featured in the supporting cast are: Robert McWade, Purnell B. Pratt, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Tully Marshall, Murray Kinnell and Frank Conroy. Look closely for Mary Carlisle (a Paramount starlet in "B" films in the late 1930s) as the giggling young bride near the end of the story.
GRAND HOTEL obviously registered well upon its release. It had earned an Academy Award as Best Picture of 1931/32. In later years, GRAND HOTEL has become imitated and spoofed many times. MGM would remake GRAND HOTEL as WEEKEND AT THE WALDORF (1945), moderinizing the story to New York City with World War II background, featuring its current top marquee names of Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon and Van Johnson. It was later adapted into a Broadway musical in the 1990s. Both screen versions are available on both video cassette and Turner Classic Movies cable television. For a good time with a film classic, check in the GRAND HOTEL and see what the stars are doing for the weekend.
I've seen "Grand Hotel" at least fifteen times -- more than any other '30s film with the possible exception of two other classics: "King Kong" and Astaire and Rogers' "The Gay Divorcee."
Quite a few others reviewers here have commented negatively on this "creaky" old film. They are correct -- it is -- and yet, who cares? It's utterly wonderful!
The whole cast is superb -- charming, desperate, vulnerable John Barrymore; cynical, sad, appealing Joan Crawford; pathetic, whining, irrepressible Lionel Barrymore; coarse, selfish, all-too-humanly cruel Wallace Beery; and of course, the great Greta Garbo. The supporting cast, led by Lewis Stone and Jean Hersholt, are equally good.
Those who criticize Garbo as over-the-top in her portrayal of the prima ballerina are right. She IS over-the-top, AND she is absolutely glorious, whether wallowing in self-pitying, suicidal despair or radiant as the spring with a new love which astonishes and transports her. What a unique, unforgettable screen presence! What a Goddess!
"Grand Hotel" holds this viewer, anyway, entranced from beginning to end. In addition to the superlative acting, the art deco design is stunning and the music always appropriate.
Creaky? You bet. Do they make movies like this anymore? Nope. Do I wish they did? I sure do.
A world-weary prima ballerina, desperate for love. A noble cat thief, desperate for money. A dying clerk, out on a last fling. His industrialist boss, passionate & brutal. A pretty young stenographer, willing to do almost anything to get ahead. A hotel bell captain, anxious to hear about his pregnant wife. And a cynical, war-scarred doctor. Destiny awaits them all in one of Europe's most renowned establishments - Berlin's GRAND HOTEL.
This is considered to be the first `all star' movie. It was certainly MGM's most opulent film up to that time. The studio loaded it with an A List of star performers:
Greta Garbo, uttering her trademark phrase, `I want to be alone.' Radiant in love, one can only imagine the despair that awaits her after the film ends.
John Barrymore, suave, sophisticated & ultimately tragic.
Lionel Barrymore, in a performance that will stay in your memory, slowly dying.
Wallace Beery in a heavy role, all bullying bluff & bluster.
Joan Crawford, tough as nails & good as gold.
Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, Rafaela Ottiano & Ferdinand Gottschalk all lend sterling support.
There was concern that putting so much talent into one film, instead of spreading the stars out over 4 or 5 films, would lose the studio money. Not to worry. It was a great success, financially & critically. Watch how the plot weaves the threads of the characters' lives into a finished tapestry. One of the great movies. Tremendously satisfying.
* 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.