In Grand Hotel a group of very different individuals stay at a luxurious hotel in Berlin of between-wars Germany. The story follows this intertwining cast of characters over the course of one tumultuous day. Greta Garbo is Grusinskaya, a ballerina whose jewels are coveted by Baron von Geigern (John Barrymore), a thief who fancies Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), a stenographer and the mistress of Preysing (Wallace Beery), businessman boss of Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), a terminally ill bookkeeper who is under the care of alcoholic physician Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone).
The original trailer of Grand Hotel:
Greta Garbo – Grusinskaya The Dancer
John Barrymore – The Baron
Joan Crawford – Flaemmchen The Stenographer
Wallace Beery – General Director Preysing
Lionel Barrymore – Otto Kringelein
Lewis Stone – Doctor Otternschlag
Jean Hersholt – Senf The Porter
– The film was based on the novel Menschen Im Hotel by Vicki Baum. Baum based it on her own experiences working as a chambermaid in two well-known Berlin hotels.
–Grand Hotel was the first All-Star vehicle. Usually there are no more than one or two big stars in a picture so as to lower the production cost and maximize profits. But Grand Hotel featured five of studio MGM’s biggest stars and it became one of the highest grossing pictures in Hollywood history.
-John Barrymore was so thrilled at the prospect of appearing in the film with Greta Garbo, that he immediately accepted a three picture deal with her studio MGM.
-As always, Greta Garbo was very particular as to how her love scenes were filmed. She requested red lighting for a romantic atmosphere and curtains between the camera and film crew to create the illusion that they were alone. It worked as she got so carried away, she continued kissing John Barrymore for three more minutes after they yelled ‘cut’.
-Wallace Beery stormed out of rehearsals, saying he would only come back ‘when Joan Crawford learns to act’.
-Joan Crawford initially objected to her role as Fleammchen fearing that much of her performance would be censored for being too racy. Although the director and producer assured her this would not be the case, it turned out that she was right. Many censor boards in conservative American states cut the majority of her scenes.
-Joan Crawford was a huge fan of Greta Garbo and would always say ‘Hello, Miss Garbo’ when they would pass each other. Greta never replied, but when Joan finally gave up, Greta stopped her and asked: ‘Aren’t you going to say something to me?’. When Greta finally came up to Joan herself and said that she was sad that they did not have any scenes together, Joan was thrilled and she told that story proudly to people throughout her life.
-The only actor who wasn’t very accommodating on set was Wallace Beery, who did not want to play the role of Preysing in the first place. When he relented, he decided to steal as much of the show as possible and tried to upstage the other actors.
-The film was also seen as an artistic achievement in its art direction and production quality. The art director, Cedric Gibbons, was one of the most important and influential in the history of American film. The lobby scenes were extremely well done, portraying a 360° desk. This allowed audiences to watch the hotel action from all around the characters. It changed the way sets were made from that point onward
-The line ‘I want to be alone’, famously delivered by Greta Garbo, placed number 30 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes and would always be associated with the mysterious actress.
Best Picture – Grand Hotel –1932 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Grand Hotel was a huge success upon its release, but is mostly remembered for being the first ensemble film with major box-office stars. Still, it was and remains an influential film in Hollywood history. A star-studded ensemble cast has become a staple in Hollywood, with films like Dinner at Eight, The Towering Inferno and Ocean’s Eleven and the sublime art direction created a whole new way of filming. The term ‘Grand Hotel theme’ has come to be used for any dramatic movie following the activities of various people in a large busy place, with some characters’ lives overlapping in odd ways and some of them remaining unaware of one another’s existence.
But aside from its influence Grand Hotel is a perfect example of the glamorous and big movies Hollywood produced in the thirties. It is also a film of the pre-code days, those illusive years between 1929 and 1934 when sound pictures where introduced but there weren’t any censorship rules yet. But what really makes Grand Hotel worth watching, is seeing all of these iconic actors and actresses starring and shining alongside each other, capturing a unique moment in Hollywood history.
Read more about Greta Garbo’s life.