Written by: William A. Drake
Starring: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone
As a concept, hotels carry plenty of intrigue and horror to them. People pass through for various reasons like business, pleasure, and everything in between. Individuals just going in and out with only a record possibly keeping track. Grand Hotel seeks to tell the story of a few individuals coming together at one particular time with a blend of chemistry and tragedy to make things interesting, unlike what one of the characters insists occurs.
At the Grand Hotel in Berlin, a dancer (Greta Garbo), a stenographer (Joan Crawford), a thief (John Barrymore), a businessman (Wallace Beery), and a dying accountant (Lionel Barrymore) all happen to coincide in their stays. As they begin to acquaint themselves with each other during their stays, their hopes and desires begin to merge and clash.
Billed as a joining of megastars, this film certainly did not disappoint in bringing together some huge names of the time in Hollywood. A stacked list of actors to all face off in the mysterious setting of a hotel. Really, who says no? They all get brought together to play a game of who has negative intentions and what will occur by the time their check-out time arrives. Each of their characters comes to this hotel in different positions in life, from Otto, the accountant, living out the last few days of his life in luxury to Flaemmchen, the stenographer, just trying to make some money. Staying at this hotel truly remains the aspect all drawing them together and this film lets the fireworks pop.
The character causing the most raucous proves to be Baron Felix von Giaigern, who needs to sort out his financial issues. With him carrying the title of Baron, anyone he interacts with assumes the man carries a wad of money but nothing could be further from the truth. Part of his deal of being at the hotel comes from an agreement with another criminal to steal the jewelry of the renowned dancer, but when he attempts to complete the act, things get a bit more complicated than anticipated. Shifting from expectation to reality makes a major facet of the character progression occurring in this film with each of them facing a breaking point, then seeing another path presented to them and taking it for their own wellbeing. Whether this be in a financial sense or with love, plenty happens here.
Of the very impressive cast at the disposal of the director, the best in show for me had to be Joan Crawford. Entering the fray in the lowliest position as a traveling stenographer trying to simply make some money, she experiences plenty during this hotel stay. From working for General Director Preysing and then witnessing something fairly unsavory later on. No one has to go through it more than her when all she wants is some financial security. Crawford carries all of the moments her character goes through like a professional. She has interactions with each of them and along with John Barrymore’s Baron, they get mixed up in all the tangled webs.
Grand Hotel has remained on the lips of anyone who has watched all the Best Picture winners seeing as this one marks quite the intriguing victor in Academy Award history. For all its star power, not a single one of the actors even received a nomination, nor the director, or literally any other facet of the film’s production. It simply got nominated for Best Picture and then just won it, which truly remains a unique achievement that has never been replicated again since its occurrence in the 5th ever ceremony. A fun little piece of history and intriguing to think back as to what might have caused this very unusual circumstance.
In the end, the famous words of nothing ever happening uttered by a character in this film could not be further from the truth. A jumble web of hopes and desires finds the characters in Grand Hotel. With the perfect setting for a random collection of individuals, these people find more than they bargained for, which makes for quite an enjoyable journey for the audience to go on. Reaching its conclusion feels a bit jarring but it ultimately all makes for quite the film to experience, especially with the sprawling cast involved.