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USA 1932
Directed by
Edmund Goulding
115 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Grand Hotel

I have never understood Greta Garbo’s iconic standing in cinema history either in terms of her looks or acting ability and Grand Hotel, which won the Best Picture Oscar, leaves me none the wiser.

Garbo plays Grusinskaya, a disillusioned temperamental ballerina staying at the luxurious Berlin hotel which gives the film its name. Camped in the same hotel are an indigent aristocrat desperate for money, Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore), a dying accountant, Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore. John’s brother), a dodgy businessman Preysing (Wallace Beery), and a pragmatic stenographer, Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford).

Based on a 1929 novel by Vicki Baum which was turned into a successful Broadway play Grand Hotel is designed as a tableau of intersecting lives with the Baron as the principal link in the see-sawing relationships. The film is dated in terms of both content and style (barons and stenographers are thin on the ground these days and one wonders whether the actors stand so close to each other for reasons of sound recording) although nostalgia buffs will relish the all-star cast (the first time Hollywood pulled this kind of stunt and no doubt what won it the Best Picture Oscar).

Caked in make-up, presumably to make her look older than her 26 years Garbo utters her famous “I want to be alone” line with suitable world-weariness but beyond that her acting is limited to an improbably girlish volte-face once Barrymore’s urbanely seductive Baron declares his undying love. The more interesting performance is by Joan Crawford, not yet the mega-star she would become in the 1940s whose character, somewhat surprisingly but honestly enough as the Great Depression was still a reality for many people, including young single women is willing to sell her body to her employer The latter is convincingly played by Wallace Beery who won the Best Actor Oscar that year but for another film, The Champ, Both the Barrymores acquit themselves well in their very different roles.

FYI:  The film was loosely remade in 1945 as Week-End at the Waldorf with Ginger Rogers and Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon and Van Johnson.




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