Grand Hotel (1932)


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.


12 thoughts on “Grand Hotel (1932)

  1. Great post, as always. I watched this one a few years back and right away you know it’s one of those movies that you know you want to watch again. Great cast, the main reason that I watched the movie was to see a young Joan Crawford.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Terrific post about an amazing film! You totally nailed Lionel’s performance (and John’s!), and I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought he had terrific chemistry with Joan. Can you imagine what it must have been like to see an awesome spectacle like this in a glamorous movie palace in 1932? Wow! I’m so glad to have found your blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mike noonan

    Great post Carol!! You’re right, never realized it was probably the first ensemble movie with great stars. Also inspired the Broadway musical Bt Tommy Tune

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Argh! I must confess I haven’t seen Grand Hotel. But you know what? I think that now I’ll be able to enjoy it more because I’m familiar with John, Lionel and Beery. If I had watched sooner, I’d propbably only pay attention to Garbo and miss some of the fun…

    Liked by 1 person

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