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Grand Hotel (1932) movie poster Grand Hotel

Theatrical Release: April 12, 1932 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Edmund Goulding / Writers: Vicki Baum (novel and play Menschen im Hotel); William A. Drake (play Grand Hotel)

Cast: Greta Garbo (Grusinskaya - the Dancer), John Barrymore (The Baron Felix von Gaigern), Joan Crawford (Flaemmchen - the Stenographer), Wallace Beery (General Director Preysing), Lionel Barrymore (Otto Kringelein), Lewis Stone (Doctor Otternschlag), Jean Hersholt (Senf - the Porter), Robert McWade (Meierheim), Purnell B. Pratt (Zinnowitz), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Pimenov), Rafaela Ottiano (Suzette), Morgan Wallace (Chauffeur), Tully Marshall (Gerstenkorn), Frank Conroy (Rohna), Murray Kinnell (Schweimann), Edwin Maxwell (Dr. Waitz)

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- Viewed February 1, 2010

"Grand Hotel... always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens." So says Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) at the beginning and end of Grand Hotel. The words of the disfigured World War I veteran physician who lives at the Berlin hotel are heeded.
But plenty happens in between those utterances, as we peek into the lives of a number of diverse guests staying in the lavish building.

Among them are a secretly broke baron (John Barrymore), an accountant who has accepted he's not long for this world (Lionel Barrymore), a businessman (Wallace Beery) looking to close a deal, his stenographer (Joan Crawford), and a washed-up Russian ballerina (Greta Garbo).

The strangers meet one another and find their lives intertwined. A couple of romances are formed and one guest winds up dead at another's hands.

In Grand Hotel, we find some interesting, complex characters, something largely missing from the Best Picture winners that preceded it. Each has his or her own story and none seems to claim more time or attention than the next. This is the kind of dialogue-driven drama that lends itself to dissection and repeat viewings.

The title card for "Grand Hotel", the winner of 1932's Best Picture Oscar, credits Vicki Baum, the Austrian author of the original German text. Though Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) famously says she wants to be let alone, cat burglar and baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore) doesn't seem to care.

This 1932 film stands as one of the two best-known credits of Swedish actress Greta Garbo (the other being her titular turn as Ninotchka). Neither Garbo's performance nor her character made too great an impression on me. Her line "I want to be let alone" somehow ranked as the 30th most significant on the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes" 2005 list. It seems to wield more meaning in relation to Garbo's personal reclusiveness than in the film's universe and even dancer Grusinskaya's weariness.

To me, the standout characterization comes from Lionel Barrymore as Otto Kringelein, a commoner who is living and spending like there is no tomorrow (because there just might not be for him). If you're like me, you know Barrymore best as the scowling wheelchair-bound antagonist of It's a Wonderful Life. Otto couldn't be further from the menacing Mr. Potter and there's something extremely appealing about the timid man whose impending mortality frees him up. This was one of two Best Picture performances that truly enhanced my opinion of this Barrymore's talents.

Baron von Gaigern (John Barrymore) and stenographer Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) share a smoke and chat in one of Grand Hotel's expansive halls. Driven by a looming expiration date, sick Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) tries a Louisiana Flip cocktail and standing up for himself, to the impressing of Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford).

Grand Hotel earned Best Picture, but no other Academy Awards or even nominations. It is the only film to pull off that strange feat, much easier to realize in 1932
with just eight feature film Oscar categories, most comprised of three nominees. The film remains in higher regard than its competition, which included Beery's The Champ and Marlene Dietrich's Shanghai Express. Other movies from 1932 not recognized then but admired today include Tod Browning's Freaks, Howard Hawks' original Scarface, The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, Carl Th. Dreyer's Vampyr, Johnny Weissmuller's first Tarzan adventure, and the Paul Muni crime drama I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.

Like seemingly every film that was successful back then, Grand Hotel was soon remade, first in 1945's Week-End at the Waldorf and then in Germany's 1959 Menschen im Hotel (whose title is that of Vicki Baum's source novel and play). In 1989, Broadway got Grand Hotel: The Musical.

Warner's Special Edition DVD includes a decent retrospective making-of featurette, the 1933 musical parody short Nothing Ever Happens, a brief newsreel about the film's premiere, and relevant trailers.

Grand Hotel rating: 7 out of 10 - Buy from

Previous: Cimarron / Next: Cavalcade

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Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films - The Tortoise and the Hare
Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto

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Published April 14, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 Images copyright 1932 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 2004 Warner Home Video.