Grand Hotel (1932): Best Picture Oscar, Starring Garbo, the Barrymores (John and Lionel), Joan Crawford

Based on Vicki Baum’s novel (and play), adapted to the screen by William A. Drake, “Grand Hotel” was MGM’s prestige production, winning along the way the 1932 Best Picture Oscar.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

“Grand Hotel” features an all-star cast, demonstrating that MGM had indeed “more stars than there are in heaven.” Seen from the present’s perspective, “Grand Hotel” still serves as an example for a type of film that “Hollywood does not make anymore.

grand_hotel_4_crawfordThere were at least five star performances, each exhibiting his or her particular screen persona,

though best of all were Greta Garbo, as the fading dancer, and John Barrymore, as the declining nobleman. Their scenes together were the strongest in the film, and some of Garbo’s lines, such as “I want to be alone,” became identified with her screen image.

Also good are Joan Crawford as Flaemmchen, the determined secretary; Wallace Beery, as Preysing, her brutish-abusive tycoon-employer; and Lionel Barrymore, as a pathetic dying man named Otto Kringelein

grand_hotel_3_crawfordHowever, the movie as a whole lacks dramatic coherence, and continuity; it’s too much of a patch work. Each star has two or three “big scenes,” which are replete with message-speeches about the value of life (and death), the transient nature of love. Take Baron Felix von Geigern (John Barrymore), who says to Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), “A short life and a gay one. That’s my creed.”

In several acts, the movie crosses the line between well-acted melodrama and sheer pathos. Thus, Lionel Barrymore tells General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery): “You can’t discharge me! I’m my own master for the first time in my life. You can’t discharge me! I’m sick! I’m going to die. You understand/ I’m going to die, and nobody can do anything to me anymore. Nothing can happen to me anymore. Before I can be discharged, I’ll be dead.” And he does.

grand_hotel_1A layer of cynicism prevails over the melodramatic proceedings, expressed in the speeches given by Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone), who acts as sort of an Emcee: “What do you do in the Grand Hotel? Eat. Sleep. Loaf around. Flirt a little. Dance a little. A hundred doors leading to one hall, and no one knows anything about the person next to them. And when you leave, someone occupies your room, lies in your bed, and that’s the end.

 

 

grand_hotel_2_garboThe movie concludes on a bitter note, when Gruskinskaya, unaware of the baron’s death, departs the hotel with her staff, believing they are going to meet later. The first and last words belong to Dr. Otternschalg: “Grand Hotel. Always the same. People come. People go. Nothing ever happens.”

Nonetheless, audiences did not mind the stiffness of the dialogue and staginess of the production (Baum’s novel was previously done as a play, in 1930), for they turned “Grand Hotel” into that year’s top money-making movie.

Reviews of this early sound film were excellent, too. The Motion Picture Herald wrote: “As drama, as comedy, as character portrayal, I rank ‘Grand Hotel’ with the few first-class entertainments on stage or screen. So perfect, so vivid, so well done is this picture that I was not picture-conscious at all. It created an illusion of absolute reality.

Made on a budget of $750,000, Grand Hotel was extremely popular at the box-office due to its star power, grossing over $2.3 million in the U.S. alone.

Oscar Context:

“Grand Hotel” competed against seven other movies for the Best Picture, including John Ford’s “Arrowsmith,” King Vidor’s “The Champ,” “One Hour with You,” co-directed by George Cukor and Ernst Lubitsch, and Josef Von Sternberg’s “Shanghai Express.”

Strangely, none of the star players of “Grand Hotel, or even its director, Edmund Goulding, was Oscar-nominated. The movie is one of the three Oscar-winners to have received only one award.

At present, the tendency is for a few films get a large number of nominations and awards, but in the 1930s and 1940s, the votes were spread among several pictures.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Picture, produced by Irving Thalberg

“Grand Hotel” was nominated for only one Oscar, Best Picture.

It vied for the Best Picture Oscar with seven other films: “Arrowsmith,” which received the largest number of nominations (4), “Bad Girl” (3), “The Champ” (also 4), “Five Star Final,” “One Hour With You,” “Shanghai Express,” and “The Smiling Lieutenant.

Once again, Paramount dominated with three of the eight nominees. MGM had two: the winner and “The Champ.”

Credits:

Directed by Edmund Goulding
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Written by William A. Drake, based on the 1930 “Grand Hotel” play by William A. Drake and Menschen im Hotel 1929 by Vicki Baum
Music by William Axt, Charles Maxwell
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Edited by Blanche Sewell
Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: April 12, 1932
Running time: 112 minutes

Cast

Greta Garbo as Grusinskaya, the dancer
John Barrymore as Baron Felix von Geigern
Joan Crawford as Flaemmchen, the stenographer
Wallace Beery as General Director Preysing
Lionel Barrymore as Otto Kringelein
Lewis Stone as Dr. Otternschlag
Jean Hersholt as Senf, the porter
Robert McWade as Meierheim
Purnell B. Pratt as Zinnowitz
Ferdinand Gottschalk as Pimenov
Rafaela Ottiano as Suzette
Morgan Wallace as Chauffeur
Tully Marshall as Gerstenkorn
Frank Conroy as Rohna
Murray Kinnell as Schweimann
Edwin Maxwell as Dr. Waitz
Allen Jenkins as Hotel Meat Packer