Grand Hotel (Blu-ray Review)28 Jan, 2013 By: Mike Clark
Stars Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery.
Like 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, which Warner Entertainment has concurrently releasied with 1932’s Grand Hotel in an Oscar Blu-ray promotion along with 1942’s Mrs. Miniver, MGM’s granddaddy all-star epic is in that very limited club of best picture Oscar recipients in which its director (Edmund Goulding) was overlooked for a nomination himself. There was probably more of a stigma attached to Daisy director Bruce Beresford because in the early days of the Academy, there weren’t as many nominees in each category. Had there been five, Goulding might have — and probably should have — placed. That’s because Frank Borzage fan that I am, I just don’t think I’d claim that Bad Girl, for which Borzage took the director’s Oscar in what was then termed the “1931-32” voting year, carries anything like the heft and clout of this whoop-de-do production, which must have been a logistical mess for MGM’s scheduling staff. Just think of having to juggle a superstar cast whose members normally spent their workdays “carrying” more modest individual vehicles by themselves.
More interestingly, Hotel didn’t get a nomination in any other category, either — though this Blu-ray presentation shimmers enough in the good way (you can almost shave in its images) that one can see how Greta Garbo favorite William Daniels might have gotten a nod for cinematography. (The winner that year was Lee Garmes for Shanghai Express, still an off-the-charts photographic landmark.) Hotel truly is an ensemble vehicle, and I really don’t have a favorite performer here out of a pool that includes Garbo (career-faded ballerina); John Barrymore (jewel thief and broke dandy who falls for her); Wallace Beery (strapped business magnate); Joan Crawford (in “working class mode” as a stenographer); and Lionel Barrymore (dying and badgered Beery employee blowing his savings to stay in the title posh establishment, located in Berlin).
The result is sometimes overwrought but doesn’t creak, even if Garbo’s acting style is sometimes as other-world-ish as Norma Desmond’s would have been. (She’s definitely an actress, to use my oft-referenced Danny Peary reference, you can’t imagine in jeans. And, by the way, does anyone remember that in 1964, MGM Records released a vinyl LP of audio clips from Garbo’s movies, including the one here where she first meets Barrymore?) Hotel is not as good of an MGM all-star vehicle as Dinner at Eight (which joins Design for Living as my favorite Hollywood movie of 1933) but immeasurably better than 1934’s Night Flight. The most germane comparison, though, is the just as entertaining Skyscraper Souls, which, somewhat amazingly, MGM had released just two months earlier. It, too, takes place in a posh high-rise hotel, with Warren William ideally cast as an entrepreneur who enjoys deflowering sweet young things — another of those characteristic roles that spelled doom for the actor’s career when the Hollywood Production Code took force two years later.
Meanwhile, after Garbo, the Barrymores and the rest — also some good and better movies that include Dark Victory, The Constant Nymph, Nightmare Alley, Everybody Does It, Mister 880 and even (if memory serves) Teenage Rebel — I always wondered what it must have been like for Goulding to end his career directing Pat Boone, Tommy Sands and Gary Crosby in Mardi Gras.