Before I go any further, I want to completely own up to having off-beat and fairly unique tastes when it comes to “Old Hollywood,” “The Golden Age of Hollywood,” “Classic Movies…” or whatever phrase best fits your fancy. The stars I often adore most are often the ones others overlook. By the same token, many legendary favorites not only don’t float my boat, they don’t even get it in the lake!
I hope you never take anything I say personally if you’re a fan of any of these legends – after all, they’re legends, after all, and that means that you are undoubtedly right and I am as wrong as can be. But I can live with it if you can.
I am a huge fan of the movie “Grand Hotel,” but it’s (undoubtedly) not for the reason you’d imagine… In fact it’s IN SPITE of the reason you’d imagine. Okay, you guessed it. I’m not the biggest Greta Garbo fan on the planet.
There are times, on screen, when she is brilliant. She was certainly an incredibly fascinating woman in real life – and, undeniably beautiful. The grace, the confidence, the voice… stunning. I personally simply don’t embrace her acting style. Embrace? Heck I don’t even hold its hand.
If, by now, you aren’t convinced that my tastes march to the beat of an odd drummer, I also put Laurence Olivier in that category. Yes. That Laurence Olivier. Like Garbo, I have not seen all of Olivier’s movies, so I’m basing this on a sample size I personally possess. If I were to see more of their films, it’s possible that my opinion of each would evolve, but as it is… I’d rather watch an rerun of The Brady Bunch (your pick) than either of these stars at work.
Apologies… plural. They’re really racking up now.
So, how does someone who is not a Garbo fan come to love Grand Hotel? Two words… Joan Crawford. As is the case with all of her roles, I think she is simply mesmerizing in this movie. It’s one of her earlier films, yet the star quality is still there. So much so, in fact, that she upstages much (at the time) bigger names. She plays a stenographess, Flaemmchen, and it’s impossible to remove your attention from her grip whenever she’s on the screen.
“I want to be alone.” – Grusinskaya (Garbo)
The Plot: A gorgeous, luxurious hotel in Berlin is the setting for this star-studded, fast-paced film. I’d imagine it was the inspiration for television series such as Love Boat and Hotel, as well as many films since. The movie takes place over the course of 24 hours as life plays out for the colorful characters – each of which will never be the same after the day they’ve had!
John Barrymore plays jewel thief Baron Felix von Geigern. He finds himself attracted to both a prima ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) and the beautiful Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford).
Along with Joan Crawford, I’d give the “star of the movie” to Lionel Barrymore who plays terminally ill Otto Kringelein. He’s also simply wonderful in this movie. John Barrymore is also perfect in the movie – I think I just always held his character against him. I mean, come on now… how can you even look at the prima ballerina or anyone else once you’ve had Flaemmchen in your sights?! When his character tells Garbo’s that he’s never seen anything in his life as beautiful as her… I all but yell at the screen, “You darn sure have!!!”
Have I mentioned how mesmerizing Crawford is in Grand Hotel?
“Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.” – Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone)
Grand Hotel Fast Facts:
- Grand Hotel won Oscar for Best Picture.
- Garbo purrs her now famous line, “I want to be alone.” in this film.
- John Barrymore was so excited about appearing in this film with Greta Garbo that he accepted a three picture deal with MGM.
Oscar winner Wallace Beery stormed out of rehearsals at one point, saying he would only come back “when Joan Crawford learns to act”. You’ll notice I’ve all but left him out of my review. So there.
Joan Crawford was actually nervous about accepting the role of Flaemmchen. She was afraid of backlash because of the overtly sexiness of her character. Though director Edmund Goulding and producer Irving Thalberg assured her that everything would be tastefully done and that her misgivings weren’t founded, her instinct was (in the end) warranted. Many conservative censor boards cut the majority of her scenes for indecency.
Greta Garbo was nervous about playing a prima ballerina – she was afraid she wasn’t young enough for the role.
- John Barrymore (Felix von Geigern) and Lionel Barrymore (Otto Kringelein) were, of course, brothers. Lionel was the older brother.
- Lionel Barrymore would become most famous for his role as Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). It was actually Barrymore who convinced James Stewart to take the role of George Bailey. Apparently Stewart felt that he was not up to the role so soon after World War II. Thank goodness Barrymore convinced him – I cannot imagine the movie OR Stewart’s career without him bringing George Bailey to life.
Garbo was also unhappy about appearing in a film with so many additional stars. Producer Irving Thalberg was able to set her diva mind at ease when he told her she would be billed her by her last name only in the credits. This was a huge honor which was reserved for only largest stars.
Though rumors circulated that Joan Crawford was irked by Greta Garbo’s top billing, this is completely false. In 1932 (when the movie was released), Garbo was by far the more established and famous star. Joan Crawford would have certainly been aware of this.
I don’t want to give away anything in regard to the various storylines or the characters, so I will simply say that if you love old movies, you have to see this legendary film. If you’re a huge Greta Garbo fan (my apologies to you for my sentiments, if you are, and I promise to see more of her films!), this is as MUST SEE a movie as you’ll ever encounter. She’s full steam Garbo, here, and you’ll devour every second.
Joan Crawford fan? See. The. Movie. Buy. The. Movie. You’ll revel in our girl’s playfulness and sexiness. I may apologize for my lack of love for some stars, but I certainly don’t apologize for this opinion – Joan Crawford and Lionel Barrymore make this movie the masterpiece it is.
Side Note: Watching the Barrymore brothers again in Grand Hotel caused me to read more about their fascinating family. When you get a chance, Google John’s beautiful daughter Diana Barrymore. Drew Barrymore’s resemblance to her is STRIKING.
Simon Courtney says
Initially John Barrymore was reluctant to work with Greta Garbo. He had heard that she could be difficult to work with. Though he soon abandoned his misgivings after she walked him onto the set and said what an honor it was for her to star alongside such a prestigious actor. She also spent her lunch rearranging the furniture on the set so he could be filmed from his favored left side.
Garbo’s closed sets were not because she was a diva. She suffered from anthropophobia (fear of people). She could only meet one new person at a time. The sweat on the brow, trembling and rapid blinking were not put on. Contrary to myth, Garbo did not spend her retirement as a recluse. She had many friends whom she regularly travelled around the world with.
She was billed as Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel. It was for the film ‘Queen Christina’ that she was billed as Garbo. She had it written into her new contract with M-G-M.
Other than that, I thought your review, for someone who is not a fan of Garbo, was very fair.