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The Greta Garbo Blogathon: Grand Hotel (1932)

Greta Garbo blogathon

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Greta Garbo. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Greta Garbo, or just Garbo, as she was so often referred to as, was quite simply one of the most intriguing and talented film actresses that there has ever been. Her face spoke volumes. Greta was also an actress who really never needed any dialogue because  she could convey what the audience needed to know through looks and emotions alone.

Greta Garbo was perfectly suited to the Silent era style of acting, her face and eyes were her words; yet Greta was also something of a rarity in that her style of acting fit the talkie era too. Where many of her fellow Silent stars failed to make the transition to the Sound era, Garbo not only succeeded to successfully make that major transition, but she also retained the same level of fame and acclaim that she had enjoyed in the Silent era. That is a pretty remarkable achievement when you think about just how many stars from the Silent era saw their careers destroyed by the coming of the sound era.

The only other actress I can think of who compares with Garbo for being able to make audiences so completely feel their emotion through the screen is Ingrid Bergman. Both let their faces and emotion speak for them. When you watch their films you do so to see those extraordinary faces in action.

A very private and shy woman in real life, the Swedish born Greta Garbo retired from acting and public life in 1941. Her screen persona (often a strong and independent woman)is still famous today. Greta Garbo was one of the all time greats and she continues to fascinate today. I first saw her in the tragic romantic drama, Camille, she broke my heart in that and I have been a fan of hers ever since.

For this blogathon I’m writing about Grand Hotel. It is in this film that Garbo utters that famous line which has since become her catchphrase – “I want to be alone”. That line may as well have come from Greta herself, as she also wanted to be left alone to live her own life as a private citizen.

The film is directed by Edmund Golding, produced by Irving Thalberg, and it is based upon the 1929 novel by Vicki Baum. The novel was inspired by Baum’s time working as a maid in a hotel.

When I first saw Grand Hotel,it led me to feel very differently about both Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. I thought that Greta overacted in her role, I also felt that there was something rather artificial about her performance. This reaction really surprised me. I had been so impressed with the other performances of Greta’s that I had seen up to this point. 

It took me a couple of more views to appreciate and actually understand Greta’s performance here. Her character in this film is a prima donna, her actions and gestures are completely exaggerated, everything that she does is done purely to attract the notice of others.  

Greta captures that sort of personality perfectly in her performance here. Her performance is over the top because that is exactly what her character is like. When you watch her with that in mind, I do think you really begin to appreciate just how good a performance it really is.   

I also found myself really liking Joan Crawford in this film. That was surprising to me because she wasn’t an actress who I had liked very much up to this point. This film made me appreciate her a great deal more as an actress, and while I still can’t say she is a favourite of mine; I have certainly developed a great deal of respect for her as an actress. I think she was at her best in films made during the 1930’s, and I think that she comes across to me as being much more natural in these early films.

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Grand Hotel was one of the first all star films. The actors who appeared in this were among the biggest names of 1930’s cinema. I can well imagine that audiences at the time must have been so excited to see all these big stars together in one film. Greta Garbo was probably the biggest star in the film, other big names in the cast include the Barrymore brothers (John and Lionel)and Joan Crawford.

Berlin, in the 1930’s. If you are after a swell place to stay when you’re in the city, you need look no further than The Grand Hotel. It’s luxurious, modern, and is a very popular establishment. You never know just who you will run into while you’re staying here.

Greta Garbo plays Grusinskaya, a shy and acclaimed ballerina who is staying at the hotel while she performs on stage in the city.

John Barrymore plays Baron von Geigern, a kind and good man, who has unfortunately squandered his fortune and now has to resort to playing cards and being an occasional thief in order to support himself. The Baron is planning on stealing Grusinskaya’s jewels, but he doesn’t plan on falling in love with her, or for her to return his feelings.

Lionel Barrymore is Mr. Kringelein, a loveable, weary, gentle and sick man, who is looking after himself for a change. He befriends the Baron and (possibly for the first time in his life)has a lot of fun.

Joan Crawford plays Miss. Flaemmchen, an outgoing and ambitious stenographer who has been hired to work for a guest in the hotel. She befriends the Baron and Mr. Kringelein, and she falls in love with the Baron. He has great affection for her, but his heart is with the ballerina. Mr. Kringelein also develops great affection for the young woman, and there is a possibility that he has fallen in love with her too.

Wallace Beery plays Director Preysing, a wealthy, tyrannical, and hard hearted industrialist, who hires Miss Flaemmchen to assist him as he closes an important deal at the hotel. He is also the employer of Mr. Kringelein.

Lewis Stone plays the hotels doctor, Otternschlag, a dignified man who was terribly disfigured during WW1.

Jean Hersholt plays the dedicated and overworked hotel manager, Senf. He is eagerly awaiting news of his wife, who is about to give birth to their child.

Rafaela Ottiano plays Suzette, the devoted and demure ladies maid to Grusinskaya.

These characters will all interact with one another during their stay at the hotel. Hearts will be won, hearts will be broken and lives will be forever changed. This will be one hotel stay that will never be forgotten by any of our characters.

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The Baron and the Ballerina.

It is the characters that give this film its heart and soul. We are made to feel for them deeply as the film goes on. We want the best for them, and we come to care about some of them very much indeed. I like that they all come across as believable and very real people, they are filled with flaws, quirks, and shades of light and dark. It is the characters that draw me back time and again to this film.

My favourite characters in this are the Baron, Miss Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein. I love the bond that slowly develops between their trio, and some of the funniest and most moving scenes in the whole film feature these three. 

I also have to say how much I love it when the Baron calls Flaemmchen “funny one”. The Barrymore brothers and Crawford all do such a terrific job of making their characters affection for one another seem completely genuine. We completely believe and feel their emotional connection.

The Baron in particular is the films heart. He is the character who connects the most with all the others. He brings happiness and also a sense of security into the lives of Flaemmchen, Grusinskaya and Kringelein. What happens to him later in the film is shocking, disturbing and heartbreaking. John Barrymore is certainly at his best in this role, conveying a weary, decent and gentle soul forced to do something morally wrong in order to survive. This performance has become my favourite from among Barrymore’s many films.

The characters I feel the most sorry for are Kringelein, the Baron and Grusinskaya, they are each a sad person in different ways, and they all suffer a great deal of pain and heartbreak as the film goes on.

My favourite scenes are the following. The Baron meeting Flaemmchen for the first time. The entire sequence in the bar. The scene between Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein where she says she will stay with him(this never fails to make me go teary). The Baron comforting a distraught Grusinskaya. The introduction sequence. The phone ringing in the Baron’s empty room and we see his dog waiting on the bed for him to return.  😦 Grusinskaya not being told the truth about the Baron at the end, but deep down inside herself we see that she appears to know something is very wrong.

This one is a real character piece and I think that the story gives all the actors their chance to shine at some stage of the film. The cast all deliver solid performances. I think the Barrymore brothers, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford deliver the best performances in the film.

Despite the good story, the memorable characters, and the many stars which appear within it; I do think it is fair to say that it is Greta Garbo who has become the best remembered part of this film. 

Greta’s role in this film is the one that has become the most famous out of all of her screen work I’d say. As the decades have passed us by, the name of Garbo, and the title Grand Hotel have become forever linked to one another.

           Some facts about the film.

  • Buster Keaton was the first choice for the role of Kringelein. I would love to have seen him get the chance to play this more serious and tragic role. While it is intriguing to imagine Keaton in the role, I do think that in the end the right casting choice was made with Lionel Barrymore.

 

  • The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It wasn’t nominated for, and nor did it win, any other awards in any of the other categories.

 

  •  John Barrymore and Greta Garbo were very nervous about working alongside one another in this film. When they eventually met they both ended up getting along really well. 

 

  • Buster Keaton wanted to make a parody of this film with himself playing Kringelein. It would have been set in a New York flophouse, and it would have starred a number of other comedians in the key roles. I would so love to have seen this.

 

Any other fans of Grand Hotel? Please leave your comments below. What do you think of Greta Garbo in this film?

 

 

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20 thoughts on “The Greta Garbo Blogathon: Grand Hotel (1932)”

  1. Lovely review. It must have been difficult to articulate all the great, great stuff in this film here, John and Lionel Barrymore are both fantastic as always, but I’d imagine most people will search out Grand Hotel because of Garbo, and she really is something else. Talk about magnetism! She was one of those singular screen presences like Bela Lugosi or Groucho Marx that you can’t really compare to anyone else. Maybe that’s the power of being a movie star.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Paul. There was so much more that I didn’t include in the post, It would have been an endless post if I had LOL. It’s one of those films that it’s best for people to watch for themselves rather than read about I think.

      Garbo is the best remembered star of the film, but all the cast are fantastic. It is a real character piece. Garbo sure did have star quality and was a very unique actress.

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  2. I really like that your writing has such a pleasing conversational feel to it: like someone just engagingly chatting with you instead of pontificating at you (cue ‘critics’). I recently rediscovered “Grand Hotel”. Saw it as kid (back when Khartoum was besieged) and it didn’t leave much impression, but now I have a quite different take. I’ve become a Joan Crawford fan (who knew?) and I thought what Garbo did here was just right (loved her laugh). I also thought the once popular,now much-maligned Wallace Beery was very effective. Hotels make such a good vehicle (?) for a script, with the constantly changing lineup of new stories that can mix and/or adapt (if it’s a series). I worked in one once and we harried, bemused staffers all felt it would have made a great comedy. The Imperial–or, as we called it, “The Inferior”. Great writeup,Maddy. Top hat doffed, do have them pull my Dusenberg up front, Mark

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mark. That is very nice of you to say. I just try to write honestly about what a film or series means to me. I think all the cast were superb in Grand Hotel. A fantastic once in a lifetime ensemble cast.

      I think that hotel settings make for very interesting stories because you never know who is going to check into the hotel. I think there is something very appealing about connecting with strangers for a brief time. Have you seen the film Hotel starring Rod Taylor? Or Lost In Translation?

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      1. Indeed. Yes, I really liked “Hotel” (in my sights on my site) and enjoyed “Lost in Translation.” I’m okay “The Exotic Marigold Hotel”, due mainly to the cast, but I’ll have to check out of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”–I copp to generally having a tough time with the quirk-world of Wes Anderson. Then there’s “The Shining”, although the guest list in that one is troubling, and the room service is atrocious.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m another one who would have loved to see the Buster Keaton parody – a brilliant idea.

    “Grand Hotel” is a truly interesting film. Like you, I didn’t really like Garbo’s character the first time I saw the film. I still don’t like the character, but you make a good point about her exaggerated qualities, and the film needs her oversized personality.

    Lovely review. I think I need to see this film again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and part of it was Joan Crawford’s performance. She plays a much more likeable character, and does it well. I love when she dances with Lionel Barrymore.

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  5. Dear Maddy,

    This is a fine article! I recently watched “Grand Hotel” for the first time. Although it struck me as being a little odd, I thought it was a very interesting film. This is the only sound film I’ve seen with Greta Garbo, since the only other movies I’ve seen with her are “The Kiss” and “Flesh and the Devil.” I agree that she is a very expressive and emotional actress. I think you made a very interesting comparison between she and Ingrid Bergman. Greta Garbo’s common gesture of running her hand over her forehead is similar to a gesture one of my favorite actresses, Mae Clarke, often does.

    I, Rebekah Brannan, have not participated much in the blog world in the past, but I intend to become more involved now. I have read some of your other articles, and they are all informative and enjoyable.

    I would like very much for you to participate in my upcoming blogathon, The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon, which will be my first real participation in PEPS. This blogathon, which will be hosted around Valentine’s Day, is celebrating the famous singing team Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

    You can read the rules of the blogathon at: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2017/12/20/ring-the-assembly-bell-here-comes-the-singing-sweethearts-blogathon/. If you want to join, please comment and tell me your topic, if you have chosen one. I hope you’ll join me in honoring this brilliant team and the holiday of love!

    Joyfully,

    Rebekah Brannan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Rebekah. I appreciate your kind words so much. I hope you get to see more of Garbo’s sound films. Camille is a good one.
      Thank you for the invitation. I’m sorry but I won’t be able to take part in your blogathon. I have several other blogathons lined up for that month and I don’t feel able to fit another in. I love your blogathon idea though, this couple are vastly underrated. I wish you every success with the blogathon. Maddy

      Like

      1. Dear Maddy,

        My apologies for not responding sooner, but I’ve been busy recently because of the holidays, and this is the first chance I’ve had to respond.

        I’m very sorry that you won’t be able to participate, because you are a very good writer and an article by you would have been a wonderful contribution to the blogathon! I hope you’ll be able to participate in our next blogathon, since we’d love to have you!

        Thank you!

        Joyfully,

        Rebekah Brannan

        Liked by 1 person

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