Grand Hotel (1932)
Friday, February 15th
As people move about and check in and out of the Grand Hotel in Berlin, Doctor Otternschlag (Lewis Stone), a disfigured World War I veteran notes, “People come and go. Nothing ever happens.” However, on this day, five desperate individuals have their lives intertwined as events unfold at the hotel. John Barrymore plays Baron Felix von Gaigern who is a sympathetic thief who finds a conscious when he meets Russian dancer Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo). The Baron also meets Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) a humble married man, who has been told that he is dying. He has left his family and taken all of his money to live out his remaining days in luxury at the hotel. Also staying at the hotel is his former employer, General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) who is at the hotel to close a big business deal. Preysing has hired a stenographer, Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) to assist him during his stay.
Louis B. Mayer would boast that MGM had “more stars than there are in the heavens.” For the production of the movie Grand Hotel MGM took advantage and used their biggest stars for this film. This would become the first “all star” casted film. With so many stars in the film there were reports of upstaging each other. Wallace Beery would adlib lines in attempts to throw off Crawford; he was soon told by director Edmund Goulding to play the role as written. Other instances came in scenes with both Lionel and John Barrymore. There were no scenes in the film that had both Garbo and Crawford; this was done to prevent the two actresses from upstaging each other.
It is said that Garbo and John Barrymore got along famously; John Barrymore supposedly signed a three picture deal with MGM for this opportunity to work with Garbo. The two actors helped each other and brought out each other’s best in each of their scenes. Garbo reportedly spent her lunch break rearranging the furniture in her characters bedroom to accommodate John Barrymore who preferred to be filmed from the left side of his face. Despite this, Garbo’s first choice to play opposite her was her one time fiancé John Gilbert. However, his lack of success in his first three talking pictures convinced MGM not to put him in the picture. This turned out better for audiences of this film; Garbo and John Barrymore are wonderful together and created another great vehicle for the great Garbo. Garbo was very self conscious of her role in the film. She felt she was too old to be playing a prima ballerina; there was also controversy about Garbo’s Swedish accent and her character being Russian. MGM believed in Garbo’s talent and box office draw, she was given top billing and listed only as “Garbo.” This is also the film in which Garbo utters her famous line of “I want to be alone.” Though she would insist later that what she said was “I want to be let alone.” As Grusinskaya Garbo is a depressed, unappreciated ballerina till she finds hope and love with The Baron. Garbo in reality lived this line with her reclusive nature.
Joan Crawford had reservations of taking the role, she felt that she would be lost among the high powered stars, and her best scenes would be cut by the sensors. Joan’s character has aspirations of being an actress, and is willing to go away with the married Preysing if it means advancing her career. Many of her scenes where indeed cut, so that the movie would bypass the objections of the sensors which at that time were starting to tighten the reins on “pre-code” films. Wallace Beery too had objections to playing a loathsome character, very different from the normally cheery characters audiences had previously seen him play. To convince him to play the role, Irving Thalberg allowed Beery to play the role with a German accent to distance himself from any parallels between himself and the character. Preysing is the only character in the film that has a German accent, in film that is set in Germany.
Grand Hotel is based on book by Vicki Baum about the intertwined fates of people who meet at the Grand Hotel. Grand Hotel holds the distinction of being the only film to win the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards without being nominated in any other category. The movie has been remade several times, including Weekend at the Waldorf (1945) which TCM will be showing on March 6th at 10 PM (ET). In 1989 a stage musical also title Grand Hotel premiered on Broadway which was nominated for and won several Toni Awards in 1990.
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