director Edmund Goulding
Grand Hotel might not have “more stars than in the heavens” but the Best Picture Oscar winner did hail from MGM, the studio who touted that astronomical line. It’s got Greta Garbo and her iconic “I want to be alone” line, John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, and a young Joan Crawford. It’s an ensemble piece of drama made for a star-studded cast, each getting their moments to shine as they haunt the titular Grand Hotel in Berlin.
For a pre-code film, it’s not especially racy, though it has a little innuendo here and there. Beyond its starry cast, the thing that struck me the most was the cinematography and set designs. There are some trippy master shots looking down from the high mezzanines upon the main desk in the lobby floor. I don’t know how all these were orchestrated but they are often eye-popping and create a singular sense of space and place for the action’s setting.
Some of the drama leans toward the maudlin and the film turns into more outright tragedy by the end. It’s a film so much of its era in style and performance that it’s easy to imagine a modern audience finding it weird and overdone. But it also has some true qualities that transcend the aspects that make it seem such a figment of its time.
In the long-run, I’m swinging between three and a half stars and four, though I think landing on the more conservative estimation.