Sunday, October 24, 2010
Best Picture of 1932: Grand Hotel
Since getting a reasonably big screen TV last year, watching old movies has been more fun. So I got the idea I’d like to catch up with some old classics I’d never seen. I consulted a list of Best Picture award winners, and the first I managed to get from the library was this baby, Grand Hotel.
Until now, my nearest brush with this film was the notion that it (or the Vicky Baum novel it was based on) was more or less the inspiration for Frederick Nebel’s 1934 novel Sleepers East.
The film was promoted as having the greatest all-star cast ever assembled, and I have no reason to doubt it. These are some giants in Hollywood history. But I was surprised to realize I knew some of them in name (and image) only. I’d rarely, if ever, seen them act.
One of those is Greta Garbo. It was pretty cool to see her deliver her signature line, “I vant to be alone,” but was hard to judge her acting chops, because this role, as a prima ballerina, called for extreme overacting.
Then there’s John Barrymore. I was familiar with his name mainly from an early silent film called Sherlock Holmes, which I've never seen. He was the romantic lead here, and one of the more compelling characters.
Lionel Barrymore, even more of a legend, played a mousy and pitiable guy with an incurable disease. We’re supposed to like him a lot, I suspect, but I found him too pitiful.
One of my favorites was Joan Crawford, who I'd never seen this young. Based solely on this film, I’d call her a better actress - with more screen presence - than Garbo.
Though the ending was downbeat, the filmmaking was crisp and confident, and the multiple storylines kept things hopping. It’s not hard to see why the Academy vote this the Best Picture of 1932.