Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator calls for room service after landing on 1932’s Grand Hotel, the oldest movie in the set.
Here’s what happens: A look into various folks’ lives as they stay at the opulent grand hotel in Berlin. There’s an aging ballerina who fears her best days are behind her, a conniving baron seeking money by any means, a pompous general hoping to close a big business deal, a dying man wanting one last taste of the good life, and a lovely young stenographer with ambition of being an actress.
Why it’s famous: Then-groundbreaking film techniques, including the bird’s-eye-view shots of the busy hotel front desk. Also, Greta Garbo delivers her famous line “I want to be alone” with maximum malaise.
Get your film degree: In the early ‘30s, the studio system demanded that each movie be built around a single movie star. With Grand Hotel, writer William Drake and director Edmund Goulding broke the mold by putting a whole bunch of big stars in one movie and let them play off each other, more or less inventing what we know of today as an ensemble film.
Movie geekishness: While Greta Garbo is more or less the headliner, I was really blown away by Joan Crawford’s performance. These days, Crawford is more famous for her messed-up personal life rather than her acting, but in Grand Hotel she’s charming, witty and all-around radiant. She was my favorite part of the movie.
Thoughts upon this viewing: Your screenwriting 101 teacher will tell you that you should never, ever, ever write an ensemble film, and instead to maintain focus on a single main character. Some strange alchemy is at work in Grand Hotel, however, making it the rare ensemble film that works.
Next week: Does this bird belong to you?
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