Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Grand Hotel (1932)

Muchly much has been written about Grand Hotel, one of the slickest entertainments MGM concocted, so just a few thoughts for the road:

Grand Hotel was the first Hollywood film designed to showcase a wide array of top talent in one ambitious dramatic setting. This I knew, but I hadn’t previously realized that Grand Hotel created the template not only for future star vehicles centered on one setting, but also for the disaster genre and the disaster genre parodies. When John Wayne’s 1954 The High and the Mighty dropped the Grand Hotel format on a plane and added a disaster, that film paved the way for Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno. The High and the Mighty was also the key inspiration, even moreso than Airport, for Airplane! And so it goes.

Irving Thalberg’s artistic instincts were correct in not shooting Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford in the same scene. In the MGM “universe”, these actresses occupy different worlds and their characters were in fact opposites, one ethereal, elusive and mysterious, the other earthy, open and street-smart. To modern-day eyes, Crawford ‘s acting is more believable, but Garbo, even when over-the-top, has an indefinable old-world allure that makes Crawford look cheap in comparison (Rudolph Valentino had the same qualities in comparison to his ‘30s counterparts).

As for the men, John Barrymore’s more subtle acting holds up better than Lionel Barrymore’s flamboyant performance, and Wallace Beery – is Wallace Beery no matter the costume or accent.

The Warner Bros. DVD contains a fine, but too short, documentary on the making of Grand Hotel, a promo short of Grand Hotel’s premiere, containing rare shots of MGM actors and the film’s director, Edmund Goulding, trailers, and a bizarre and not very funny Warner Bros. short parody of Grand Hotel. No complaints about the quality of the print - it looks great to me.

Grand Hotel is recommended for fans of classic Hollywood actors, those who enjoy a good, Saturday afternoon story, and as an example of sophisticated 1930s Hollywood product at its polished best.

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