- Edmund Goulding
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Thursday, December 30, 2004
The story is pretty simple. This is a Berlin hotel where, according to Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone), one permanent guest, “People come. People go...nothing ever happens.” It’s just a simple if luxurious hotel, with people coming and going, no one getting into each other’s business. And it’s true! Yet, life is life and the world is the world, and things do happen all the time, and they can be deadly interesting if looked closely. So in telling the story of a suicidal ballerina (Greta Garbo), a down-on-his-luck aristocrat-turned-thief Baron (John Barrymore), a beautiful, ambitious and optimistic stenographer (Joan Crawford), a dying bureaucrat (Lionel Barrymore), a ruthless businessman (Wallace Beery), and the very head porter (Jean Hersholt), Vicki Baum created in her novel and play (later Americanized by William A. Drake) an unforgettable adventure of no more than two nights.
The setting is the hotel and nothing more than the hotel. Baron von Geigern (John B.) is trying to snatch Grusinskaya’s (Garbo) jewels in order to pay a big debt. In the meantime, he befriends a dying old man (Lionel B.) who’s spending all his money on his final days, while he holds a grudge for his former boss Mr. Preysing (Beery), who’s also staying in the Grand Hotel. The Baron seduces young Flaemmchen (Crawford) who’s working for Preysing, and later falls in love with Grusinskaya in an unforgettable theft-and-romance scene. The lives of all these people are affected by a decision the Baron makes while in the ballerina’s room. And still, in the end, to some people’s eyes, not much has happened.
Needless to say, the whole cast explodes. Grusinskaya is the perfect role for Garbo, with all her exaggerated mannerisms and her best diva attitude. She knows what she has and she uses it, and every time she’s onscreen it’s a powerhouse. Her chemistry with John Barrymore is palpable, and he’s also quite good as the Baron. His brother Lionel, however, excels in what could be the performance of his career, absolutely heartfelt as the dying old man. In the opposite way, Beery is magnificent as the cold-hearted industrialist. And with natural charm and simple beauty (a contrast to Garbo’s virtues), Crawford gives every frame she occupies an unexplainable magic. Hersholt and Stone are also quite haunting in their roles.
Too bad it’s over much too quickly. The Grand Hotel is one of those awesome cinematographic places that don’t exist in real life but we’d love to be in. I’d give anything to be transported into that magical place at that precise time. I feel privileged to have been given the chance to give it a look.
“But I want to be alone.”
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