Howard and I watched Grand Hotel yesterday. It was the third film in our current "Sunday afternoon series": We started with the year 1930 and are planning to work our way up to the present, watching one film from each year. Howard gets the even years and I the odd ones; whoever has chosen the movie for that year plays Robert Osborne, giving a little speech with some fun factoids before pressing the PLAY button. (And Howard is elegant enough to save an interesting tidbit to share over the closing credits.) We started with Little Caesar and followed it with Arrowsmith. Grand Hotel is, so far, the best of the lot, though the first two movies have their charms. I'm excited about next week because I have 1933 and I've chosen The Invisible Man. I really like Claude Rains.
Grand Hotel was not at all what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a frothy comedy, perhaps even a musical, with a delicious all-star cast, all taking place in a glitzy hotel. Well, it was set in the opulent Grand Hotel in Berlin, and a good deal of it was funny; but there was a dark tone to it and it ended up being more of a drama than a comedy. The cast was uniformly good, particularly John Barrymore as the decent yet devious Baron and Joan Crawford as the stenographer, Miss Flaemm (pronounced phlegm). Their first scene together was ripping good fun, full of sexy zingers and suggestiveness. I thought Greta Garbo was pretty over-the-top -- her overwrought delivery reminded me of the blonde trapeze artist who meets her fate at the hands of the sideshow performers in Freaks -- yet she was also quite touching. This film was definitely pre-Code, as Crawford's bosom-baring outfits made clear; I don't think either she or Garbo wore a bra in any of their scenes. Grand Hotel won the Best Picture Oscar for 1931/32 and was directed by Edmund Goulding, who later directed the deliriously nutty Nightmare Alley, which I also recommend.