Plot: At Berlin’s lush Grand Hotel, a colorful assortment of guests consistently arrive and depart. The hotel is currently home to a wide scope of interesting folks, including Baron Felix von Geigern (John Barrymore) who has fallen on hard times, but manages to keep his facade of wealth and success. He has made fast friends with Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), an accountant who has a terminal diagnosis who has decided to spend his savings in his final days. In an odd turn, Kringelein’s boss Preysing (Wallace Beery) is also at the hotel and is working on a crucial business merger, one that could ruin him if it falls through. At Preysing’s side is a stenographer known as Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), a fiery young woman who quickly bonds with the Baron, who finds himself drawn to the hotel’s prima donna ballerina, Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), in more ways than one. As time passes and these characters weave layered threads between each other, the situations become more complicated by the minute and even the best laid plans start to run off course…
Entertainment Value: Grand Hotel is a stacked movie, with an excellent cast, a web of interesting narratives, and beautiful visual design elements. The movie is loaded with colorful, interesting characters, all well developed and performed in dynamic fashion by the remarkable cast. John Barrymore’s performance is my personal favorite in this case, but the film is filled with memorable efforts. Barrymore brings such a tragic sense of class and charm, an elegant man reduced to a life as a thief and he conveys this with such depth and presence. John’s brother Lionel Barrymore is on the other end of the spectrum, a common man who finds himself celebrating life and finally living, now that he knows he will soon be dead. Joan Crawford is fantastic as a driven, strong woman, while Greta Garbo shines as the aloof, high strung dancer. Wallace Berry is also quite good as a man in way over his head, who only sinks himself deeper as the movie rolls ahead. These are all troubled, often desperate people and to watch their threads weave in and out of each other is a real pleasure. The tone is dark, but not oppressive, just a look at inside the lives of some complicated people. Grand Hotel is required viewing for anyone with even a casual interest in cinema, a well crafted, superbly performed film that hasn’t lost a step.
No nakedness. The movie has some romance of course, but this was the 30s, so seeing a calf is about as racy as it gets. Crawford’s performance has plenty of sizzle however, without question. No blood. This one features no real violence save one sequence, which happens off screen. A lot of verbal banter, but that’s as far as it goes aside from the one instance of escalation. The dialogue is sharp and well written, giving us almost constant fun and memorable exchanges. The prominent characters are all colorful and the kind who could be the lead, so when you hand these roles to a skilled cast like this, you get some dynamic results. While Crawford and Garbo don’t share any direct interactions, the others cross paths often and it leads to some terrific moments, as none of these folks are soft spoken. Garbo’s famous “I want to be alone.” might be the most well known of the lines here, but the movie has countless other memorable moments. Just fantastic dialogue that nails both the dramatic and comedic elements. With this many colorful characters under one roof, you will get some wacky moments and Grand Hotel has more than a few. The movie never goes for camp and over the top madness, but it has a quirky energy that really works well.
Overall Insanity: 2/10