Monday, August 16, 2010

1931/1932: Grand Hotel

Business tycoon Wallace Beery wants to finalize a merger; terminally ill Lionel Barrymore wants to enjoy his last remaining days as much as possible; Baron John Barrymore and stenographer Joan Crawford both want money; and fading ballerina Greta Garbo just wants to be alone.  This film is all about how their stories and objectives become intricately entwined at the Grand Hotel in Berlin.  Beyond that, though, this is merely a film about different types of human beings, and what they will do to achieve their goals.

Sounds simple enough.  But look again at the names I just mentioned.  This is a star-studded cast if ever there was one.  Generally my experience with such films is that they're either fabulous or terrible; either the film makes the stars shine, or the film is so bad that it has to rely solely on starpower.  This was definitely one of the former cases.  They didn't seem like hams putting on a show; they seemed like real, thinking, feeling human beings.  Greta Garbo was thoroughly convincing both when she was depressed and when she was lovestruck.  John Barrymore was likable and pitiable, so that even when he tried to steal from the other characters, no audience member would have condemned him.  Joan Crawford was also pitiable, but also strong enough that she didn't need pity.  Wallace Beery was pretty much the villain of the film, but even he could be empathized with.  And Lionel Barrymore.  Oh my goodness, Lionel Barrymore.  What an incredibly talented, versatile actor.  He never disappoints, and this may have been one of his best performances (I haven't seen enough of his films to know for sure).  A lesser cast could have made this film mediocre, but they pulled it off splendidly.  The script, plot, and actors were a perfect combination.  The effectiveness of this film depended on the believability of its characters, and these actors pulled through.

"Grand Hotel, always the same: people come, people go. Nothing ever happens."  This line is spoken both at the beginning and the end, but thankfully it isn't true, or the film would be really boring.  The premise may sound boring, the first few minutes may even seem boring, but the bulk of the film is anything but.

Coming up next: Cavalcade

No comments:

Post a Comment