The Painter and the Thief
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In the canon of Best Picture winners, Grand Hotel stands out from its immediate predecessors on acting alone (with the exception of All Quiet on the Western Front), with some solid performances from the Barrymores, Garbo, and Stone. While the majority of the film is dense character building that doesn't necessarily warrant the amount of time dedicated to it, the final 30 or so minutes is far superior as the plot actually proceeds. The pairing of Dr. Otternschlag and the hotel itself, impartial and cold, monitors of the wide array of patrons and their misdeeds, represents a far more compelling aspect of the film than many of the major characters; Otternschlag is, in effect, the film's T.J. Eckleburg.
"Grand Hotel, always the same. People come, people go, and nothing ever happens." ...or so it would seem.
This is a big and extravagant look at the lives of several people from different backgrounds over the course of two days. The movie tells several different stories using the hotel as a device to intertwine them. Much of the camera work is classic old style Hollywood with extremely tight close-ups that are still reminiscent of the silent films from a few years prior.
Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore and Greta ("I want to be alone") Garbo give performances that live up the the hotel's name... Grand!! They are but three of many big name stars of the era who appear. A tad hokey at times, the film is fast paced and a wonderful example of story telling from a bygone era.
Top marks have to be given to art director Cedric Gibbons for his herding of this gaggle of classic Hollywood stars. Goulding's direction is deft with displays of impressive camerawork, notably the overhead shots of the hotel lobby and its concentric floors portraying The Grand Hotel's opulence. The jostle for prominence amongst the ensemble is palpable and exaggerates the melodrama of Greta Garbo's role as the flighty première danseuse, who delivers an undeniably glamorous performance. Joan Crawford is enchanting and intriguing as Flaemmchen, although her character drifts from a fierce flirty femme to a less flattering stereotype throughout the course. Barrymore plays the slick, besotted hotel robber well but leaves one wondering if his allure would really permit the line "I don't suppose you'd take some dictation from me sometime" to be delivered un-slapped.
The wheels fall off the narrative toward the end and the audience is left waiting for a twist that never arrives. Nevertheless, there are some interesting social questions raised about money and honour that maintain thoughtful engagement. The casting alone makes this a must-see.
Edmund Goulding's 1932 film Grand Hotel is a slice of bygone Hollywood. It is perhaps now most famous for Greta Garbo's celebrated line "I want to be alone", but at the time its star studded past must have been a real draw and the film was successful enough to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, despite not being nominated in any other category.
Based on a stage adaptation of a novel by Vicky Baum, Grand Hotel shows its theatrical roots. It is set entirely in the titular hotel or just outside of it and the story is about a handful of guests staying there over a couple of days and how they interact. Their individual stories unfold and intersect in a melodrama that mixes elements of comedy and tragedy. The film's main problem however is that not all of the characters are equally interesting, with Lionel Barrymore's terminally Otto Kringelein and John Barrymore's aristocrat turned jewel thief Baron Felix von Geigern by the best written.
Kringelein provides the film with its heart: determined to spend the rest of his life as more than just a wage-slave, he embraces the luxury of the Grand Hotel and provides both poignancy and comic relief. Kringelein is a fish out of water, resulting in the Baron and stenographer Flaemmchen laughing at him when he enthuses about his room's massive bathroom and the caviar that he has ordered and Barrymore makes him very endearing. Kringelein ultimately triumphs over his boss, Wallace Beery's arrogant, obnoxious businessman Preysing, as he first stands up to him, then reports him to the police for murder and then finally wins the affections of Preysing's stenographer, Joan Crawford's Flaemmchen who leaves the hotel with him promising to find a doctor who can cure his unspecified sickness. The Baron on the other hand is on a reverse trajectory: having arrived at the hotel to steal ballerina Grusinskaya's pearl necklace and thus pay off the criminals he is in debt to, he proves too soft-hearted to do so after he falls madly in love with. He subsequently aborts his attempts to rob Kringelein because the two men have become friends, forcing him to resort to robbing Preysing, who murders him after catching him in the act. Thus, the film reaches both happy and tragic endings.
The other characters work less well, with Flaemmchen, Grusinskaya and Preysing far less interestingly written. Their appeal lies instead in the performances of the actors who play them. As Grusinskaya, Greta Garbo gives a moody, melancholy performance as the starlet tired of attention who famously insists "I want to be alone"; she transforms her character's persona after Grusinskaya falls for the Baron, only to get her wish to be alone when he dies. Joan Crawford exploits the enigma of Flaemmchen, giving a likeable but calculating interpretation, which suggests the promise of favours to Preysing in return for access to his money and implies that her partnership with Kringelein at the end is motivated purely by the fact that he offers to take care of him financially. Wallace Beery meanwhile brings an intimidating physical to Preysing, even if the character's business dealings are the least interesting thing in the film. There are few other characters of note, aside from Lewis Stone's Dr Otternschlag whose observation that nothing ever happens in the hotel bookend the film. Although the hotel desk clerk who celebrates the news that he has become a father at the end is a nice touch.
The impressive cast isn't the film's only asset however. As well as getting excellent performances out of his actors, Goulding also gets fine work out of his crew. The sets have aged well, whilst William H. Daniels' cinematography includes some great shots, most notably the views down into the lobby which make the scale of hotel apparent and the shots of the Baron climbing along the outside of the hotel. There is lots of ingenious camerawork, for example when the camera looks down on the switchboard operators and pans across them, and Daniels makes good use of the three-hundred and sixty degree desk set. Grand Hotel isn't perfect, and the plot does occasionally drag. But it still has much to offer and if nothing else it is a fascinating slice of Hollywood history.
It's a very well acted film. It has a great cast but some people may find it a little slow. the interlocking of people throughout the hotel is nicely down. It has a very charming look and feel about it. Its a film about people. It does not strive to be about anything it. Do i feel emotion when one the main character dies? The guests leave and the new guests appear like we can feel another story is about to start. The Film has many elements linking people who have money and people that need it. Kringelein is a great character who I really enjoyed. He was funny and was involved in a great scene discussing how he talks down to people and feeling free as he knows he is about to die. A movie that contains a death and a birth both in real life and metaphorical in peoples actions. How meeting certain people can change your perspective on life and love. The camera work is nicely done with many panning shots showing the grandeur. The subtle elements of life and death quoted throughout the film give it a very nice theme throughout. A well acted and well written movie.
Grand hotel in the end felt simply like a basic drama, there doesn't appear to be anything too stand out about it, but maybe that was just its time. The most interesting parts was some of the camera work.
The overwhelming star power of Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford should be enough reason to watch this classic. There are serious story flaws, as Grand Hotel begins as a playful situation romp intended to redeem a good hearted playboy jewel thief, but then suddenly pivots into a devastating murder film.
Despite the unsatisfying ending, Grand Hotel it is still worth the significant effort to follow the (poorly written and complex) web of relationships, if only for the pleasure of watching two master actresses carry this film over the finish line.
interesting story and legendary cast, but didn't enjoy the ending
Excellent all around.
I just loved this film despite it's dated acting and staging and that's the reason that I give it such a high rating and would rank it amongst my favorite Best Picture winners ever. Director Edmund Goulding was not someone who's work I had been familiar with before seeing this film but he also made The Razor's Edge (1946) with Gene Tierney which I intend to see. Of course this film has an incredible cast boasting Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo and Lionel Barrymore among it's lead group of players and we see them giving some of their most fun performances in the film. This is not a film for those who cannot tolerate the style used in films of 1930s which does appear slightly dated by today's standards but it's still a monumental cinematic achievement that causes you to laugh and to cry.
Otto Kringelein, Lionel Barrymore, is an old man with a terminal illness who is spending his life's savings on staying at the Grand Hotel in Berlin until he happens to die. He is joined at the hotel by his employer Preysing, Wallace Beery, who is struggling to get a business deal finalized and is attempting to have an affair with stenographer Flaemmchen, Joan Crawford. Flaemmchen has already fallen for thief Baron von Geigern who rejuvenates the spirits of lonely, suicidal dancer Grusinskaya, Greta Garbo, when he woos her to avoid being caught robbing her. He plots to escape his life of thievery and go with Grusinskaya to Vienna but he needs to successfully rob somebody to leave as a financially independent man but his actions have tragic consequences.
Although the relationships develop far too quickly to be realistic I did still get butterflies when Baron von Geigern declares that he loves Grusinskaya and reveals his treachery. The writing is formulaic and yet it has something special to it as it clicks along at a nice pace and lets us watch a group of disparate, oddly charming characters intersect. The bond that develops between the nutty Kringelein and the shifty von Geigern was genuinely touching as the two of them complement one another nicely and it never stepped over into being too treacly sweet. Everything wraps up nicely as we get a touch of melancholy knowing that Grusinskaya and von Geigern will never have their happy ending but Flaemmchen and Kringelein have hope for the first time in their lives.
The most iconic moment in the film is when Greta Garbo states "I want to be alone" in typical forlorn fashion. The line is more famous because of the way it relates to Garbo's real life persona than it is within the story of the film but we do really believe that this is a woman who is sick of being pestered and simply wants to be left to herself for a while. Garbo is upstaged by the inimitable Crawford in other parts of the film, because really nobody is better than Crawford, but she pulls of her enigmatic artist role well and deserved a Best Actress nomination for her work.
The rest of the cast excel as Barrymore, Crawford and Beery all give some of their most iconic performances. Crawford is believable as the pretty young stenographer willing to use her feminine wiles to get ahead as she seems almost like a younger version of Beth Austin from This Woman Is Dangerous (1952). The chemistry between Crawford and Barrymore overshadows the romantic subplot between Garbo and Barrymore but both flirtations are enjoyable to watch and I don't begrudge any actress for not matching Crawford. Lionel Barrymore rounds out the cast as he gives an even better performance than he did in You Can't Take It With You (1938) and proves himself to be a timeless presence.
This was the Best Picture of 1932, hands down, this is the sort of film worthy of appearing in The Apartment (1960) and it's ability to entertain 87 years after it was first released is remarkable. Few film watching experiences I have had this year have equaled my experience of watching Grand Hotel as I felt the emotions of the characters and was dazzled by the presence and skill of the actors, a true cinematic achievement.