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Grand Hotel (1932)
- Favorite Movies 1930s (#21)
Grand Hotel is a 1932 American drama film directed by Edmund Goulding. The screenplay by William A. Drake and Béla Balázs is based on the 1930 play of the same title by Drake, who had adapted it from the 1929 novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum. As of 2012, the film is the only one to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture without it or its participants being nominated in any other category. In 2007, Grand Hotel was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The line "I want to be alone," famously delivered by Greta Garbo, placed #30 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes. The film was remade as Week-End at the Waldorf in 1945. It also served as the basis for the 1989 stage musical of the same title. The phrase "Grand Hotel theme" came to be used for any dramatic movie following the activities of various people in a large busy place, with some of the characters' lives overlapping in odd ways and some of them remaining unaware of one another's existence.
In 1932, however, the sum was even greater than its parts, and Grand Hotel was such an event that the New York Times review had as much to do with the chaos of the opening-night crowd as with the film itself. Based on the hit Vicki Baum novel, the film introduced the so-called portmanteau genre (Dinner at Eight was the most famed of the follow-ups) in which the lives and stories of a group of diverse people are brought together by circumstances and emerge changed. It also featured Garbo's most repeated line ('I want to be alone'), and its lavish production makes it a touchstone in MGM and Hollywood history.
In that sense, Grand Hotel still offers a lot of entertainment seventy-some years later, and you can admire it today for its now-creaky charm. But as much of what drew crowds in 1932 is lost today: the acclaimed performances (especially that of Lionel Barrymore) now seem broad because film has moved so much further from the stage than it had then, the dramatic devices are long since worked to death, the conclusions of many of the film's small dramas are telegraphed nearly from the time the characters are introduced. The younger Barrymore is still a delight to watch (although shifting trends in male beauty make his fabled good looks a lot more resistible than they reportedly were then), and Garbo, as always, from any distance, shines.
The very best of Hollywood's output from this era -- a film like The Maltese Falcon, say, which followed fewer than 10 years later -- still packs the wallop it did on its first release. Revisiting Grand Hotel is by comparison a nostalgic pleasure, which is something very different. The new DVD release offers a making-of documentary, period shorts, and trailers from the 1945 remake Weekend at the Waldorf. If you're in the mood for a sentimental look back, by all means check in.