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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Grand Hotel (1932)



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The term "hyperlink film" wouldn't be invented until 2005, but they've been around for much longer. The strain of these films we know today was more or less invented by Robert Altman with Nashville (1975) and refined with Short Cuts (1993). But Grand Hotel was the original: a series of interlocking stories that all take place in a ritzy hotel in Berlin. In the words of one of the characters: "People come, people go. Nothing ever happens."

Actually, a lot happens. What he means is that what happens doesn't amount to much in the grand scheme of things. The movie shows us how important the details of our lives are. Yes, the world will keep on moving, and nothing that happens in Grand Hotel will change that. But it is the nature of the human condition to care more than anything about the course of our individual lives, regardless of the fact that they seldom have broad ramifications.

True to the spirit of the genre it created, Grand Hotel has a huge cast of supporting characters in lieu of any main characters. They are played by such luminaries of the day as Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Wallace Beery -- all great personalities that deserve to be better known today.

The film won the Best Picture Oscar for 1932 without so much as a nomination in any other category. Other aspects of the film were worthy of recognition, such as the screenplay and art direction, but never mind: the award shows how a film can be more than the sum of its parts. What makes the movie great is how all the different pieces, strong as they may be on their own, fit together into a better whole.