"People coming, going. Nothing ever happens"
Grand Hotel is a 1932 drama film directed by Edmund Goulding and stars Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore. The film is notable for the line, "I want to be alone" and is the only Best Picture winner to have not been nominated for any other Oscar.
The film takes place at the exotic Grand Hotel in Berlin, Germany, where "nothing ever happens". The story follows a group of intertwining characters over the course of one day. Greta Garbo plays Grusinskaya, a Russian ballerina. John Barrymore plays Baron Felix, a gambler and a thief. Lionel Barrymore plays Otto Kringelein, a meek accountant who has discovered he is dying and wants to spend the rest of his days as luxuriously as possible. These three as well as various other characters interact with one another throughout the film.
What I just described above certainly does not sound very much like a true story. If I said we're going to make a movie where a bunch of people come together in one place, and we're going to watch how they all interact with one another, you'd get something closely resembling Grand Hotel. If we were simply conducting a study on what happens when big-name actors all come together, just for the sake of seeing them all together, the results could be interesting. The difference with the study is that we're not watching a film, and we would have an easier time following what we are observing, because there is no lighting, editing, or directing. In Grand Hotel's case, it's a puzzle trying to decipher what exactly is the "story" it's trying to tell us. When I think more about what I saw, I have a difficult time trying to come up with an answer other than, I saw a bunch of people just doing "stuff" and "things" together.
- John Barrymore's performance. Barrymore's Baron fits into the description of a bad guy gone good. Baron is a thief; he is constantly trying to steal jewelry. Later on, after playing in a card game, he steals Kringelein's wallet, because Kringelein scored a big victory securing all the money. However, when he sees Kringelein desperately searching for his wallet, he decides to return it by pretending to find it on the ground. His primary reasoning for returning the wallet is because he felt he developed a friendship with Kringelein and grew very fond of him. Baron's character is believable and has some plausible characterization to boot. Credit to John Barrymore for making this so.
- The most prominent problem with Grand Hotel is that it has no sense of direction. The movie wastes no time in defining the sample of hotel residents and workers that we are supposed to follow. Unfortunately, we keep jumping back and forth between these characters, as if it was a series of vignettes placed out of order or the script had its pages mixed up. Films like Pulp Fiction use an un-sequential story to its advantage, but Grand Hotel will give you a hard time trying to keep up, especially since everything is happening in just one setting.
While Grand Hotel does feature a big-name cast (big name for its time) and a commendable performance from John Barrymore, there's a stingy amount of memorable moments. The film is comprised mostly of character interactions with little-to-no actual storytelling. The quote at the very beginning is very appropriate, "People coming, going. Nothing ever happens". That's exactly what you'll wonder while watching Grand Hotel; what are these people doing and what exactly is happening?
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