Director: Edmund Goulding
I just re-watched this pre-code masterpiece as the sky opens and releases an Atlantic Ocean outside. A not too inconvenient experience - especially when I'm accompanied by the newly purchased Mick Lasalle book "Complicated Women - Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood" on my cigarette breaks.
So anyway. Besides having five of MGM's greatest stars in the leads, having an ingenious script by William A. Drake (original novel by Vicki Baum), Grand Hotel also offers a feast for the eye by the enchanting cinematography of William H. Daniels (having photographed other Garbo vehicles such as Anna Christie, Mata Hari, Queen Christina, Anna Karenina and Camille).
Scene: The Baron's (John Barrymore) first encounter with Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) is a perfect example of the magnificent camera work in Grand Hotel. Look how she constantly blows smoke in the Baron's face - not too respectable!
I won't go into the plot too much, for two reasons, being; just a few words about it wouldn't do it justice, and you don't need to know more than that Grand Hotel is a witty drama taking place in (what else?) the fancy Grand Hotel.
Hollywood veteran Lewis Stone, as doctor Otternschlag, couldn't be more wrong (and yet strangely accurate...) when he as both an introduction and a final statement to the film states:
"Grand Hotel... always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens."
And I must say that I am quite impressed by the extra material on the Warner Bros DVD edition of the film. Aside from a short documentary on the film, there are amazing film documents from the Grauman's Chinese Theatre premiere of Grand Hotel - with Conrad Nagel responsible for all the movie stars checking in at the film theatre!
And there aren't quite a few of the stars, neither. Aside from Crawford (with husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr), Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery from the cast, "Mr. and Mrs. Irving Thalberg" appear, in the company of Clark Gable. Also Jean Harlow, who states that she can't write with gloves on, handsome Robert Montgomery and the film industry mogul Louis B. Mayer, among others.
Well, what's the use of me telling you about it? Take a look for yourself here:
Another funny special feature is the 18 minute long Grand Hotel parody Nothing Ever Happens (1933), which is as hilarious as it seems hallucinogen inspired. Witty spoken songs mashed with Busby Berkeley girls, who simultaneously throw their legs in the air whether they are at the hotel desk or the busy kitchen.
The actors are no famous, and most of them only made about three or four pictures in total, but that only adds to the refinement of the famous actor/actress mockery. Greta Garbo's ballerina Grusinskaya is simply called "Madam", and the baron is simply "The Baron", while the other characters are wittingly re-named as Scramchen (Flaemmchen), Prizering (Beery's Preysing), and my favourite; Waistline (Lionel's Kringelein).
In short, it's a comical little gem! And have I been so nice as to let you watch it? Of course! It's totally bizarre:
Grusinskaya: I want to be alone. I think I have never been so tired in my life.
Otto Kringelein: Wait! You can't discharge me. I am my own master for the first time in my life. You can't discharge me. I'm sick. I'm going to die, you understand? I'm going to die, and nobady can do anything to me anymore. Nothing can happen to me anymore. Before I can be discharged, I'll be dead!
Dr. Otternschlag: Believe me, Mr. Kringelein, a man who is not with a woman is a dead man.
Preysing: I don't know much about women. I've been married for 28 years, you know.
Grusinskaya: I don't even know your name.
Baron Felix von Geigern: [laughs] I am Felix Benvenuto Freihern von Geigern. My mother called me "Flix".
Grusinskaya: [joyously] No! Flix! Oh, that's sweet. And how do you live? And what kind of a person are you?
Baron Felix von Geigern: I'm a prodigal son, the black sheep of a white flock. I shall die on the gallows.
Time to let you enjoy some colorized work of mine - I've been a little cheap on them lately!