1932's Grand Hotel came to embody classic Hollywood glamour for decades to come. It is stacked with the brightest stars of the time, including Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford. The film itself a little forgettable, but it does encapsulate the golden age of of early Hollywood.
The film takes place in Berlin's plush Grand Hotel and follows the intertwined stories of some of its guests. There is the lonely Russian dancer (Garbo), the disgraced gentleman of means (Barrymore), the pressured factory owner (Wallace Beery), and the ordinary stenographer he falls for (Crawford).
The strongest reason to watch Grand Hotel is to see this cast together. In fact, that is why it was made at all, and probably why it won Best Picture. It remains the only film to win in no other categories. This is not to say that it isn't a good movie; it stands up on its own, and remains quite entertaining. However, it lacks a little depth at final count, and for such a stellar ensemble the acting isn't all that wonderful. The best performance is by then-newcomer Joan Crawford, who is infinitely more watchable (and considerably more beautiful, if you ask me) than studio darling Greta Garbo. The rest of the cast seem to be stuck in convention.
The other reason to watch this movie is for the history it portrays. It was produced at the beginning of the Depression, and it is just the kind of escapist cinema people wanted to see. Glamour wasn't pretentious, it was just glamourous. It is a glimpse into a past most of us have no connection to, where people dress finely and meet in far-off hotels. The men still wear morning suits and dinner jackets, and people dance to respectable music instead of the primal throb of jazz. It is the last hoorah of the old aristocratic system, even as it gives way to populism. One character, a lowly worker in a factory, has saved his money for years just to spend a few days at the Grand and live like his bosses do. Here, of course, he and the stenographer are the only ones to find some level of contentment amid the luxury. The film's message (if you look for it) is one for the people.
There is also some impressive cinematography highlighting the stunning art-deco interiors, a continuation of the film's modern tone amid classic surroundings. It is an enjoyable film, if not an influential one. Hollywood still favors a wide assemblage of stars to draw people out to the movies, and while there is nothing wrong with this, it certainly tastes better as an eighty-year vintage.
by Chase Harrison