Grand Hotel

A star-studded pre-code movie classic from 1932, this is one film you must see if you’ve somehow missed it through the years.  An adaptation of a 1929 play, the film cast includes Greta Garbo, the Barrymore brothers (John and Lionel who couldn’t be more different), Lewis Stone, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and a slew of lesser known early cinema stars as guests at the Grand Hotel in Berlin.   Because the characters’ names are all German or Russian, it’s less important to know them than to understand the core plot and subplots.  At its essence, this is a tale of love, dastardly deeds, and eventual redemption at a terrible cost.  John Barrymore (still a handsome devil although in his 50s) is a down-on-his-luck Baron who is a sometimes thief and frequent card player, Garbo (gorgeous of course) is a legendary Russian ballerina aging out of her roles, Wallace Beery is a very unlikeable industrialist who hires Joan Crawford as his stenographer, and Lionel Barrymore (not the curmudgeon of “It’s a Wonderful Life” here, but rather a grouchy but sweet soul)  is an accountant from Beery’s company who finds he is dying and wants to live life to fullest before he goes.  The entire story takes place in the Hotel, about which Lewis Stone’s character (who is a resident) says that “nothing ever happens here”.  The movie ends with the same quote, and of course, much happens in between.   John Barrymore and Greta Garbo fall in love after he tries to rob her.  Wallace Beery asks his stenographer to “accompany” him to London to close a deal (of course, this is pre-code so he has dastardly plans), and in a twist of events, Beery’s crude character happens upon and kills one of the other characters.  With all the plot twists and turns, it would be too easy to stumble into giving more spoilers, so enough said.  The pace of the film moves along nicely, and the almost two hour run time is well edited to elicit all the emotions the director wants of the audience.   A couple of side notes: this is the movie with the famous Garbo quote “I want to be alone” which she says more than once, and this is the only movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture even though it was not nominated for any other Oscar (too many stars from which to choose?).  For any fan of classic films, this drama is one of the best, and we rate it Worth the Search.    

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