“Grand Hotel” – in the Glare of Hollywood Celebrities

Grand Hotel 1932


Title: “Grand Hotel”

Release Date: 1932

Director: Edmund Goulding

Cast: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, Rafaela Ottian




“Grand Hotel” by Edmund Goulding is an unprecedented juxtaposition of Hollywood celebrities. Acting personalities of such stature as Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and his brother Lionel, Joan Crawford or Wallace Beery met in one film. This is one of the first cinematic pictures composed of several parallel plots, which are united by a common place of action – the title Grand Hotel – the object of dreams of luxury, erotic adventures, gambling or new love.

In the reception area of “Grand Hotel”

“Grand Hotel” by Goulding was conceived as a complex story about several guests of a well-known luxury Berlin hotel. The idea worked brilliantly: the varied plots of individual characters make the plot, which takes place over 48 hours, interesting and dynamic. The work was very much liked by the audience and won an Oscar in the category of best film. Also significant was the fact of gathering in one picture the whole pleiad of Hollywood actors. Greta Garbo played the role of the Georgian prima ballerina, whose career is in decline.

John Barrymore played the role of the debt-ridden Baron Felix von Geigern, who uses his stay at a luxury hotel to rob wealthy guests. His brother, Lionel, played Otto Kringelein, a terminally ill man who decides to use all his savings to spend the last weeks of his life in affluence. Joan Crawford starred as Flemmchen, a young light-hearted stenographer looking for a sponsor in her employer. The latter (Preysinga), on the other hand, was played by Wallace Beery, brilliantly portraying a self-centered and antipathetic businessman who unscrupulously exploits his employees and cheats his associates.

Grand Hotel movie review

Although the script, which is based on a novel by Vicki Baum, was written with Greta Garbo in mind, the star does not appear here in the lead role. Instead, when photos promoting the film – featuring the divine Greta in a ballerina costume – were published, a certain blockbuster attracted many stars wanting to take part. Marlene Dietrich even wanted to star in “Grand Hotel” without taking a salary, but the studio refused to give her a leave of absence. The premiere of the film at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a real event – a special film reception was set up in the foyer, where arriving stars checked in to the delight of the audience.

“Grand Hotel” – Greta Garbo and John Barrymore

Garbo’s on-screen performance alone lasts a total of just over 20 minutes, although it is undoubtedly one of the film’s finest sequences and, more importantly, the most recognizable of her career. The Georgian ballerina suffers from depression after the death of her beloved Russian prince, her career is on the brink of a precipice. The theater halls are glowing with emptiness, and she humiliated interrupts the performance and returns to the hotel, where she utters the legendary words “I want to be alone” to her maid (played by Rafaela Ottiano) and manager. In despair, she is about to commit suicide, but the baron, hidden behind a curtain, who sneaked into the ballerina’s room to steal her precious pearls, decides to dissuade the artist from this step. A night together completely transforms the sad Georgiana. The heroine wants to start a new life with the baron in sunny Italy. The audience appreciates her performance, and she hurries to the train, having no idea that her beloved is dead. After all, the Baron is murdered by Preysing while trying to steal his wallet.

Garbo comes off magnificently in “Grand Hotel.” The scene in which she, heartbroken by her failure on stage, kisses her ballerinas is extremely moving. Also phenomenal are the joint shots of the Swedish star and Barrymore – the lyrical kiss, the liveliness and happiness painted on the ballerina’s face, the emerging passion. The latter is especially highlighted by the famous scenes depicting Georgiana talking to her chosen one on the phone. This is the essence of Garbo’s famous sensual performance – when she tenderly caresses the handset, conveying her heroine’s feelings. Barrymore’s role, on the other hand, is one of the most outstanding of his career. The actor brilliantly portrays the mysterious character of an aristocrat with obscure connivances with the criminal world, who in a dozen hours wants to change his life, but finds only a tragic death.

Grand Hotel film Greta Garbo

“Grand Hotel” – Joan Crawford and the hotel metaphor

Flemmchen, brilliantly played by Joan Crawford, is the character that connects all the threads. She flirts with the baron, hoping for an affair, works for Preysing, deciding to play the role of his mistress, and in the end stays with Kringelein, a good-hearted clerk, intent on forfeiting all her savings in Paris. On screen, Crawford is the epitome of a wildly attractive, carefree girl who is not at all naive, but takes advantage of life at every opportunity. There is a girlish freshness emanating from the actress, but also a lifetime of bitter experience.

The Berlin Grand Hotel, on the other hand, is a largely symbolic place. Of course, it allows for a chance meeting of strangers whose fates become intertwined for a longer or shorter period of time. The hotel evokes an association with a stop on life’s journey, harmonizing with the film’s open time composition. We are not dealing here with a closed story, but, as it were, we enter the middle of the unfolding events and leave the characters uncertain of their further fate. The guests leave and others appear in their place, a clear and at the same time metaphorical message of Goulding’s excellent film.


D. Bret, „Greta Garbo”, 2012.