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Oscars Challenge #30: Grand Hotel (1932) Movie Review

Grand Hotel poster

"Grand Hotel, always the same. People coming, people going. Nothing ever happens".

When you have a film that is focused on a few sets of characters with different personalities and backgrounds that got interconnected within the storyline, you know something will happen. And you know what, something indeed happened.

Grand Hotel focuses its story on several characters. Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore), a casino card player and jewel thief, Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), a Russian dancer with a falling-out career, Flaemmechen (Joan Crawford) a stenographer, Director Preysing, who is working out to close a deal then gets romantically involved with Flaemmechen, Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), a wealthy accountant who works for Preysing but is dying due to an illness, and Doctor Otternschlag (Lewis Stone), a disfigured World War 1 veteran and the only permanent resident of the Grand Hotel. The story starts when Baron befriends Otto who is spending his remaining fortune on luxury. Director Preysing hires Flaemmechen as his stenographer. She aspires to be an actress and shows some magazine photos of her which made him more interested. Meanwhile, Grusinskaya has an emotional breakdown since her shows are getting less and less popular. Baron hides in her room and stole her jewelry and heard her wanting to commit suicide. He comes out and Grusinskaya immediately fell in love with him. The next morning he returns the pieces of jewelry he stole and she forgives him. Now desperate for money, The Baron and Otto start a card game and the latter wins everything. After he gets intoxicated and drops his wallet, the Baron decides to take it but pretends to just have seen and returned it to Otto. In order to close the deal, Preysing need to go to England and asked Flaemmechen to accompany him. When they are in the room he notices that the Baron is coming from the window. The two got into a fight with Preysing killing the Baron. Flaemmechen sees it all happened and reports it to the police. Grusinskaya waits for the Baron but is nowhere to be found. She expects him to be at the train station. Meanwhile, Otto and Flaemmechen opted to stay together hoping to find a cure for his illness. The movie ends with Doctor Otternschlag giving a speech that tells that in Grand Hotel nothing really happens.

Grand Hotel interior

I really like this film, not for its grand sets of actors and actresses but for how it defines the standard of putting several sets of characters that soon got intertwined with each other. For me, it was one of those early crime-solving movies that are located in one place similar to Murder of the Orient Express or Knives Out. And this movie is way ahead of its time.

The story is not touching, moving, or anything that will sort of really blow you away. For me, it is quite simple but at the same time packs a punch in some important scenes. Just try not to get confused with the characters, because sometimes in black-and-white films with a large set of actors and actresses you might get confused about who plays who.

The story really started slow for me but it picked up when it was starting to reach its climax. I think the film got stuck on introducing the characters at first.

Baron confronting Grusinskaya

The location and set used in the film are really tremendous. The elevator is the one that sticks out the most for me because of just how weirdly looking it is. It also featured a 360-degree reception table which I guess was ahead of its time.

The film also popularized the quote, "I want to be alone". Spoken by Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) during her conversation with the Baron. It has been immortalized as one of the most popular movie quotes of all time.

It also broke the Hollywood tradition of just casting one or two popular actors or actresses. The main cast of this film is not only popular but also renowned for their work.

Confronting Preysing

But to me, what really makes this film a classic is how the story seemed to scramble the characters. Despite the title of Grand Hotel, those that are involved it in were nothing sort of grand or something. They have problems and flaws in their personalities. But at the same time, they were just as unimportant as the other guests. I am not saying that everything is senseless in this movie it's just that they are just part of a small scale of people that comes in and out of the hotel. To me, it is wonderful storytelling and an important one as well.

A couple of fun facts, it is one of those Best Picture winners that was not nominated in other categories. I wonder why though. Maybe because all the main characters in the film are played equally. I mean there really is no actor or actress that you can say played more than the rest.

Although these kinds of films were not my typical go-to movies even though it is star-studded, I still find them refreshing, to be honest. There are often times that after watching a couple of shows you need something like this. Something really easy to understand and appreciate.

I like the film overall. Not my favorite though. I hope in the future there will be winners like this just so audiences will be more well-known for movies like this.

I think this is a pretty solid 3 out of 5 stars.

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