Review: Grand Hotel (1932)


People come, people go, nothing ever happens.”

This is the opening phrase to the 1932 Best Picture, Grand Hotel, spoken by Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone), one of the hotel’s many guests. An ensemble drama, this film tells the stories of the five guests at Berlin’s most lavish hotel, as their lives overlap and collide.

The always magnificent Greta Garbo receives top-billing as Grusinskaya, a lonely and depressed ballerina reaching the end of her career. The other characters are a ruined aristocrat (John Barrymore), a business tycoon (Wallace Beery), a shady stenographer (Joan Crawford), and a terminally ill clerk (a wonderful Lionel Barrymore).

This film’s landmark achievement, I have to say, is the way the different plotlines come together. No storyline seems forced or extraneous information. Beery’s actions are teh catalyst for most of the film. John Barrymore is the savior attempting to mend the problems. And Crawford’s character seems, at first to only be making everything worse.

But it is Lionel Barrymore who is the standout. Barrymore’s suffering clerk is emotional, heartbreaking, and the only redeeming person in the film. Only a great actor can achieve that.

The film’s overall mood can be summed up the instant Garbo utters the line “I want to be left alone. Grand Hotel is about people who wish to be isolated but cannot escape the kindness of a stranger, even if that kindness may turn sour. So when the legendary actress makes that statement, you can feel her suffering, making you want to jump onto the screen and fix her problems.

A lovely, touching, brilliant movie.

Updated October 10, 2010

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