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Berlin's plushest, most expensive hotel is the setting where in the words of Dr. Otternschlag "People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.". The doctor is usually drunk so he missed the fact that Baron von Geigern is broke and trying to steal eccentric dancer Grusinskaya's pearls. He ends up stealing her heart instead. Powerful German businessman Preysing brow beats Kringelein, one of his company's lowly bookkeepers but it is the terminally ill Kringelein who holds all the cards in the end. Meanwhile, the Baron also steals the heart of Preysing's mistress, Flaemmchen, but she doesn't end up with either one of them in the end... Written by
Gary Jackson <email@example.com>
Greta Garbo requested the stage be lit in red to create a more romantic atmosphere for rehearsals. See more »
When the Baron is stealing Grusinskaya's pearls from her trunk, they can clearly be seen as a very long strand of large pearls. But later when he pulls them out of his pocket to hand back to her, the pearls are small and on a shorter strand. See more »
It's interesting that the Best Picture of the year before Hitler came to power in Germany, set in Germany, made no mention of the political situation in the country at the time. There was mention of the Depression Germany and the rest of the world was in and all five of the principal players were affected by it, one way or another. John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, and Joan Crawford all check into the Grand Hotel one day and their lives are never the same.
Greta Garbo is the temperamental Russian ballerina Grusinskaya and her artistic tantrums are getting less and less tolerable in many ways because of the Depression. John Barrymore is the aristocrat now living in genteel poverty. His world ended with World War I, but the Depression reduced him to being a sneak thief. Lionel Barrymore is the terminally ill bookkeeper who now just wants to spend his last days living it up. He's just going to ignore the Depression. Wallace Beery is the Prussian industrialist who's used to high living having married the boss's daughter, but his firm as so many others is about to go under unless he can pull off a merger. Lionel Barrymore is one of hundreds who work for him and know what an extremely little man he is, that Beery is really lacking in any real ability for business. Finally there's Joan Crawford who's a working class girl, hired as a stenographer by Beery who has other things on his mind for Crawford.
Whether in Germany or America Joan Crawford is the eternal shop girl. To her credit she does not attempt any kind of a Teutonic accent and her performance rings true. This is in complete contrast to Susan and God where she was consciously trying to imitate Gertrude Lawrence from the stage. This was the Depression in America too and many could identify with her.
No one epitomized class and old world elegance like John Barrymore, he was not better on film than here in Grand Hotel. He hates the life that poverty has reduced him to. Using his old world charm as a facade for being a thief tears him inside. Meeting Greta Garbo gives him a last chance at redeeming his life.
Garbo's performance is one of her best as well. I'm not sure any other actress could have made you sympathize with the temperamental ballerina. In the hands of anyone less skilled, the audience would have sympathized with the management of her ballet company who want to can her. When John Barrymore enters her life he's like the audience she entertained over the years rolled up in one person who still cares about her the individual. It's a last chance for happiness for her as well.
Wallace Beery had a funny thing not happened to him in Grand Hotel which I won't reveal might have been quite comfortable with the regime to come in Germany. Beery is the only one in the film to attempt any kind of Germanic speech and he does succeed in his portrayal of the hateful industrialist Preysing.
My favorite in Grand Hotel has always been Lionel Barrymore. Lionel may very well have been the most talented in the Barrymore family. Playing the gentle, terminally ill Kringelein is light years different from Mr. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life or Captain Disko Troup in Captains Courageous. Three very different roles yet Lionel Barrymore imprints his personality on every one. A meek little man, he's got courage enough now, courage that comes when you have absolutely nothing to lose.
Grand Hotel is now 75 years old. The style of acting you see here is old fashioned indeed, no one could remake Grand Hotel today in the same style. It's melodramatic, but it works. It's a fascinating look into the last days of the Weimar Republic as seen from the balcony of a suite at the Grand Hotel in Berlin.
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