August 12, 2013

Grand Hotel

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Right after the MGM roaring lion, Grand Hotel starts off with a towering trumpet instrumental, the kind you hear people play in a movie when a King or Queen is about to enter and address his/her people. And then the credits--the pictures of Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore popping up one right after another--as if to say, "This film is going to be an experience, goddammit!"

The story is a simple one--in the Grand Hotel, several occupants with varying interests come in contact with one another. I thought the opening montage--in which the different characters are using the same pay phone--was brilliant. Though the hour that follows that isn't all that great. In fact, I had quite a bit of difficulty paying attention. This is probably because the film focuses more on Greta Garbo in the beginning, who was damn near unwatchable for me. Her acting here feels unnecessarily theatrical and the language barrier only furthers her awkwardness when she has to deliver really stupid lines. On a tangent, there's a plot convention I've noticed about films during this time that to this point is really starting to wear thin on me--these characters (in the case of this film, Garbo and John Barrymore) get together and know each other for about 5 minutes and then announce that they love one another, that they can't live without one another, and it's so numbingly annoying. J. Barrymore does well with what he's given. Lionel Barrymore I felt did well also. I quite enjoyed Wallace Beery, who's the only American actor of the cast who attempted a non-American accent. But the award for MVP definitely goes to Joan Crawford, whose performance is kind of a sleeper in that it starts off alright and really steals the show near the end of the film.

The second half of the film was a lot better for me. The gears really start turning after a slow start and the drama kind of unravels smoothly (it helps that Garbo isn't around that much either). It was quite interesting to see the Barrymore brothers interact with each other onscreen. Some points of the story I took issue with, (Joan Crawford being in love with John Barrymore based off of one conversation they had in the beginning, no one telling Garbo about J. Barrymore's death, L. Barrymore and Crawford's convenient union) but all in all the film is a solid ensemble drama. Despite the film's flaws I end up really appreciating the cast--it's amazing to see such a solid, legendary ensemble of actors going off on one another in the same film. And though the movie isn't quite as grand as it fancies itself to be, it's still a good effort nonetheless.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this film for the same reasons you noted. Yes, some of the acting is antiquated and some of the storylines are banal-to-unbelieveable (Garbo as a ballerina?...Hardly). Still, seeing all of these legends in the same film, the same frame, is a thrill. And the art deco motif is so much of its time that it's like an evocation of things past. Crawford gives the finest performance, holding her own with these biggies, but Garbo's the only real drag. This film's both a curio and worth a look as to how they pulled out the stops way back when.