We see right away that Berlin’s Grand Hotel is a place of hustle and bustle, but it seems that a new drama lies behind every door. Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) just got news that he doesn’t have long to live, so he plans to spend a few days living in the grandest luxuries the hotel can offer. Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore) is broke, but won’t show it, even when he’s caught trying to steal pearls from the ballerina dancer Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo). The young dancer has nearly lost her passion for the ballet until she falls for him. There’s also General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery), having an affair with his stenographer Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) and trying to close a big business deal. When Otto, a lowly book keeper who’s worked his whole life away under Preysing’s thumb finally has the upper-hand what will happen within all the drama in the Grand Hotel?
The story is done well with so many characters weaving in and out of individual plot lines. At first, it can be hard to keep track of everyone and what exactly is going on with them, but as the film progresses everything gels together. In fact, there were so many actors that they never got together as a full ensemble. Of course, the onset rivalry between Garbo and Crawford probably didn’t help.
One little detail that I found so interesting is the hotel elevator. To symbolize the movement of the elevator, a light is shown moving up and down the wall. It nearly looks like the walls are very thing and the elevator is illuminated as it rises. Sorry to gush on such a tiny detail, but the simplicity and effectiveness was so intriguing to me. I doubt there was a working elevator at all, just doors that open and close.
It seems there is a character for everyone to identify with. The Baron is too proud to admit his money problems and certainly won’t take charity. Flaemmchen is a nice girl who is pulled by work and doesn’t seem happy with her relationship with Preysing. The dancer is a spoiled girl discouraged to be dancing in half empty theaters, but turns energetic on a dime when the Baron claims to love her. Preysing is a tyrannical business man who hides an ace up his sleeve during negotiations. And poor sweet Otto is finally living his life to the fullest.
My biggest complaint is that the story did not contain much emotional connection or excitement between all the characters to make me feel involved. To me, it felt like these things just happen, like I’m two doors down in the hotel and just want to get to sleep.
“I want to be alone. I think I have never been so tired in my life.”
The most interesting thing, historically, about this film is that it won its only Oscar for Best Picture which was also the only nomination it received! I never thought it to be a “great” film; but it was an interesting ensemble piece with good acting. It still holds up reasonly well after all this time. And It definitely scores as the best film of that particular year
And it inspired a Tony winning musical of the same name about sixty years later