What’s this? Another blogathon? You bet! I love my blogathons and August seems to be filled with them! So when Crystal of In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood announced that she was hosting a Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, I knew right away that I wanted to write about Grand Hotel (1932), featuring two of the Holy Barrymore Trinity, John and Lionel. Two great performances in an equally great movie.
But the thing is, Grand Hotel wasn’t just a movie. It was an event. One of the very first ‘ensemble cast’ movies ever made and one that some even predicted would result in a ‘Battle of the Stars’. Picture it: Hollywood, 1932. Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore and Wallace Beery, five of MGM’s biggest stars, all in one picture. The anticipation and frenzy surrounding it was incredible and the premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater has become legendary. Needless to say, Grand Hotel lives up to it all.
Being an ensemble cast, it doesn’t really have a plot per se. Just several intertwining stories about the guests at the Grand Hotel: Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), a ballerina who is depressed after realizing her career isn’t what it used to be; the Baron (John Barrymore), a hotel thief with a ‘heart of gold’; Flaem, the Stenographer (Joan Crawford), a young, attractive working girl, who wants to be more than just a stenographer; Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), an accountant who’s decided to spend his last remaining days at the Grand Hotel; and Preysing (Wallace Beery), an industrialist (and Kringelein’s former boss) hoping to close a deal.
Even though I think every single actor is fantastic in it, Lionel Barrymore stands out for me. He plays the most kind-hearted, genuine character in the movie and he breaks your heart at times, particularly in two scenes: when he’s confronting the detestable Preysing (funny how he himself would play a similar character, years later in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)) and when he and Flaem decide to go away together. Those two scenes made me love Lionel Barrymore. And what a wonderful chemistry he has with Joan Crawford!
The other Barrymore in the film, his younger brother John, isn’t to be ignored either. Never has a thief been so likeable (aside from maybe Cary Grant’s John Robie). He is a ‘gentleman’, as Flaem describes him, and his affection and respect for Kringelein shows that. He is just charming. His scenes with Grunsiskaya are sweet and tender, with a sense of calmness in an otherwise frantic hotel. The two of them seem to complement each other in a beautiful way.
Edmund Goulding directs them and the supporting cast to a triumphant success. Written by William A. Drake, based on his 1930 play of the same name, which, in turn, was adapted from the novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum, the movie ended up winning Best Picture (notably without being nominated for anything else) and it has remained one of Hollywood’s greatest classics.