Thursday, May 20, 2010
GILT-EDGED STAR ARRAY IS RECORD
Garbo, Two Barrymores, Crawford, Beery, Stone and Hersholt Seen
No One Dominates
By Maurice Kahn
New York, Apri 23
Garbo, who stands in a class distinctively her own. She gave show business “Mata Hari,” “The Fall and Rise of Susan Lenox,” “Romance” and “Anna Christie.” And before them a long list of superior silent pictures.
Lionel Barrymore. You must remember “A Free Soul,” “Mata Hari,” “Guity Hands” and “Arsene Lupin.”
His brother, John. Long a Warner stellar light. “Moby Dick,” “Svengali,” “The Mad Genius.” Currently co-starring with Lionel in “Arsene Lupin.”
Joan Crawford, improving as a dramatic actress with each succeeding picture. Competent star of “Possessed,” “This Modern Age,” Laughing Sinners,” not to forget the forerunner of the modern day sex-laden, money-laden picture, “Our Dancing Daughters.”
Wallace Beery who did “Hell Divers,” “The Champ,” “Min and Bill,” “The Secret Six” and “The Big House,”
Lewis Stone and Jean Hersholt, distinguished performers in any roles they may essay.
You get them all in “Grand Hotel.” A gilt-edged, platinum-lined array of starring talent such as never before has been assembled for any single picture. A cast you would expect to deliver the caliber of performance such as the established reputation of its members would indicate – and does.
What happens takes place in a trifle over 24 hours.
There is Otto Kringelein, lowly bookkeeper, wage slave, oppressed workman. A bad heart tells him he hasn’t long to live. So to Berlin and the Grand Hotel he comes with savings in his coat pocket, ready to make up for his life’s deprivations in one grand whirl. That’s Lionel Barrymore.
You’ll find The Baron, gentleman and knave, who lives by his wits, but, at that, far more the gentleman than knave, That’s John Barrymore.
Flaemmchen, the stenographer. Pretty, inherently honest, beset by troubles, struggling to make a living and willing, because she finds there appears no other way, to sell herself along with her secretarial talents. Joan Crawford.
Director General Preysing. Prussian to his fingertips. Domineering, bludgeoning, brutal, perspective swollen by the power of money and industrial might. Wallace Beery.
Grusinskaya, the dancer. Theatrical, temperamental, feminine, and vacillating, but stripped of surface shame, a real woman. Greta Garbo.
Fate and Grand Hotel throw them together. Kringelein, pathetic figure seeking enjoyment, buys the best that the hotel can afford. He’s having the time of his life. The Baron, hard pressed by his debts, is angling to steal Grusinskaya’s pearls. The dancer, herself unhappy, is ready to call it a day. Preysing, facing bankruptcy, lying his way through a business merger. Flaemmchen, accepting the Baron’s advances as part of a day’s routine. In the background, the routine of a big hotel, indifferent, unknowing, and caring even less.
The Baron, the dancer’s pearls in his pocket, finds escape from her room cut off. His predicament means saving her from suicide. Mutually attracted to each other, The Baron spends the night there. By morning, both discover love; the real thing for the first time. Ready to go to Vienna the following morning, he spends the day frantically endeavoring to raise the money that will clear his debts. Gambling fails; an effort to steal Kringelein’s pocketbook ends when he discovers that those 14,000 marks mean life to the man who is about to die anyway.
That night, The Baron attempts to rob Preysing, is discovered and is beaten to death by the industrialist’s telephone as Flaemmchen, in the next room, is preparing to spend the night as Preysing’s guest. That disposes of The Baron and Preysing throws Kringelein and Flaemmchen together in a touching scene which is one of the dramatic highlights of the picture, and sends Grusinskaya, her happiness short-lived, on her way to Vienna expecting to meet her lover on the train which he never makes. Lewis Stone, war-mutilated doctor, morose and bitter, bemoans the fate that makes life in Grand Hotel so uneventful, and Jean Hersholt, the head porter, has his own crisis solved in the birth of his wife’s baby.
Morning brings new guests, new interests and another day to Grand Hotel and the end of the picture.
You would imagine that with such an array of talent one personality would dominate, but this is not so. It is difficult to rate one performance above the other, since all of them are executed with an artistry, a finish and an etching in values that come along far too infrequently.
Garbo’s depiction of her unhappiness, her love for John Barrymore, and that one short scene where the mere mention of his name over the telephone lays bare all of her thoughts are magnificently done. Then, too, that scene toward the finish when Kringelein offers protection to Flaemmchen and the latter by her companionship to him with the realization that he is a doomed man is genuinely true drama.
And yet, despite all of its many qualities, Grand Hotel left us far from being enthralled that we were prepared to be. It seemed to us that what happened to the principal actors in this rapidly-shifting drama was too impersonal, too much snowed under the magnitude and general indifference of Grand Hotel and its constantly changing interests to make the story sustainingly warm and human throughout.