Edmund Goulding’s Best Picture Academy Award winning GRAND HOTEL (1932) set the standard for the ensemble cast concept of films to come. It takes an intimate view of a diverse array of characters whose lives intersect at the Grand Hotel of Berlin.
We’re introduced to each main character one by one in brief snippets as we see their purposes at the hotel and their initial impressions. Then cut to Lewis Stone as Dr. Otternschlag, “Grand Hotel, people coming, people going. Nothing ever happens.”
John Barrymore as the Baron: While the Baron’s social status is not immediately known to fellow guests, the audience only knows he is money focused. He is broke and has than honorable means in mind to obtain funds. In time, we discover that he is a thief by occupation – but a thief with kindness and honor. A true friend and gentleman by nature.
Wallace Beery as Gen. Director Preysing: Working on dealings to obtain a merger throughout a majority of the film, Preysing is an industrialist capitalist, but certainly no gentleman. Later we discover that Kringelein was a bookkeeper in Preysing’s textile company. From their interactions, it becomes apparent that Mr. Kringelein is a hard-working, savvy ‘numbers guy’ but Preysing is an unscrupulous bully, both in and out of the office.
Lionel Barrymore as Otto Kringelein: He is introduced as a tired, terminally ill and desperate man. Time is a very limited luxury for Kringelein. He’s under-dressed and crumpled as he pleads with management to set him up in the best room as money is no longer an issue. Dr. Otternschlag, with a large facial scar from the war, and the Baron help him out. They feel sorry for him for his out-of-place ways, but see his earnest kindness of heart and develop friendships.
Joan Crawford as Flaemmchen, Preysing’s stenographer: She’s stunning in beauty and her screen presence can’t help but take over and mesmerize us with every scene. “Miss Flaemm” falls for the Baron. But the Baron falls for a prima donna of the dancing world shortly after he’s caught in her room trying to steal her strand of pearls.
Greta Garbo as dancer Grusinskaya: “I’ve never been so tired in my life.” She’s as beautiful and cold as her pearls when we first meet this utterly melodramatic diva. She’s needy, high-maintenance, and only agrees to perform when she hears the house is packed with adoring fans lined around the block. It’s also where we hear her famous line, “I want to be alone.” With furrowed brow, turned-down pout of a mouth, and rolling up of the eyes, this overly dramatic dancer seeks an end to her loneliness and boredom and finds it in the love of the Baron.
Most revealing quotes:
Preysing: “I don’t know much about women, I’ve been married for almost 28 years.”
Dr. “A man without a woman is a dead man.”
Kringelein: “If a man doesn’t know death, he doesn’t know life.”
Kringelein: “Stay.” Baron: “I can’t, old man. I have no time.”
Without giving away key spoilers, I can share that this film has several running themes such as friendship, slavery, sacrifice, money and class. And I don’t mean the obvious definition of slavery. I’m referring to the other forms of slavery like being a slave to labor, a slave to love, a slave to work and business, and definitely a slave to money. It’s also an interesting message on class when the only true gentlemen in the group are the pauper and the thief.
I chose this film for The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon as hosted by In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood because I believe it’s exquisitely cast with great character development and an especially fine showcase of both Lionel and John Barrymore’s acting chops. To me, Lionel always offered better performances because he has greater range, but John brings a very sympathetic and amiable character here. To explore more Barrymore profiles (see what I did there?), be sure to read all of the contributing bloggers’ posts from the Aug. 12-15th entries.