OBPC #5: Grand Hotel, 1932

Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)

Grand Hotel (1932):  Dir. Edmund Goulding.  Written by:  William A. Drake and Béla Balázs.  Based upon the play of the same name by William A. Drake, adapted from the novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum.  Starring: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Wallace Beery.  Unrated.  Running time: 112 minutes.

Grand Hotel is a film about choices—and the people who make them, and why.  We’ll see the theme again when we come to 2007’s No Country for Old Men, but that’s not for a while now.

Set in depression-era Berlin, the film boasts an impressive ensemble of characters—from German aristocrat-turned jewel thief Baron von Gaigern to has-been ballerina Grusinskaya.  Outside, people scrape to get by, but inside the Grand Hotel, luxury and wealth abound.  Of course, drama and intrigue also abound, with alliances and rivalries forming among the disparate hotel guests.

At first, we’re not sure where the film is heading, but the film picks up once we learn more about each character’s history and see their interactions with other characters.  The plot takes many an unexpected turn, leading to a shocking and moving climax.  And John Barrymore as the Baron gives a performance that epitomizes the phrase “lovable scoundrel,” distinguishing himself in a cast of actors who would become screen legends.

The film might not probe the depth of character in later ensemble pieces (for that, see Robert Altman’s Gosford Park), and the script might have done with a more subtle touch, but this is still poignant and engaging stuff.

Next film: Cavalcade, 1933

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