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Anything can happen during a weekend at New York's Waldorf-Astoria: a glamorous movie star meets a world-weary war correspondent and mistakes him for a jewel thief; a soldier learns that without an operation he'll die and so looks for one last romance with a beautiful but ambitious stenographer; a cub reporter tries to get the goods on a shady man's dealing with a foreign potentate. And it all happens in the opulent, grandiose New York landmark hotel as a sort of tongue-in-cheek take-off on the classic movie Grand Hotel. Written by
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In many ways Weekend At The Waldorf as a remake for Grand Hotel simply doesn't work. It certainly couldn't have worked at all as a melodrama the way the original was. Remember Grand Hotel was set in Weimar Republic Germany, a time that was most negative, the film came out just before Hitler took power in Germany. Many of the elements of Nazism are to be found in the original, a very pessimistic work.
1945 however was one of the most optimistic times that America ever saw. When the film was released World War II was won in both theaters, the troops were coming home, the Cold War hadn't yet started. You couldn't make a film like Grand Hotel remade to that time in America without changing the plot to have the audience accept it.
So a more optimistic Grand Hotel was done with Weekend At The Waldorf and the parts played by John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, and Joan Crawford were done in this version by Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson, Ginger Rogers, Edward Arnold, and Lana Turner. Some of those cast names should tell you right away this will be a much lighter film.
The bittersweet interlude between John Barrymore and Greta Garbo becomes a romantic comedy between war correspondent Walter Pidgeon and movie star Ginger Rogers. She's stopping at the Waldorf on a tour and ready to start a new film, Pidgeon just back from covering the war is looking for some peace and quiet. But his reporter's instincts are aroused with the presence of crooked industrialist Edward Arnold at the hotel and trying to sneak into Arnold's room, he mistakenly is smuggled into Rogers's room in a serving cart.
Arnold is up to no good, he's about to put over a sweet deal with visiting oil sheik George Zucco. He needs a stenographer so the hotel sends up Lana Turner, but she impresses Arnold with more than her ability with shorthand.
Turner's a girl whose been done wrong in her life and she's determined to get ahead, no matter what. Even the presence of flier Van Johnson in the hotel who's about to have a delicate operation to remove some shrapnel near his heart, an operation which could kill him and whom she falls for doesn't deter her from making the play for Arnold.
That's not as gimmicky as it sounds. President Andrew Jackson carried around a bullet in his cheat because doctors would not risk an operation at first. He did it for about 20 years. So the writers were on solid ground with Johnson's plight. Zucco's casting as an oil rich Arab sheik, borrowed quite liberally from King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabis whom FDR visited on the way back from Yalta was also certainly a harbinger of things to come.
Things turn out a whole lot better for the cast members here than in Grand Hotel for the most part. Some other roles of interest are Robert Benchley as gossip columnist and Keenan Wynn as a cub reporter who is from the Lois Lane snoop and scoop journalism school. So is Pidgeon who tells Wynn to get creative in his search for a story. His methods though, not his writing.
Weekend At The Waldorf is done with typical MGM gloss and made Louis B. Mayer quite a bundle. It's not a classic like the film it was based on, but it's still a good piece of entertainment. And of course it's quite the commercial for the Waldorf Astoria hotel. It's still there in New York, not having been taken over by any of the hotel chains. At one time, Herbert Hoover, Douglas MacArthur, and Cole Porter maintained permanent residences on its premises. Two out of those three were there when the film was made.
They probably would recognize the place now. It's still an elegant place, but old fashioned, reflective of their era. But for us we have Weekend At The Waldorf to remind us.
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