Not to be confused with the much more recent Grand Budapest Hotel or Hotel Transylvania, this 1933 classic similarly enjoys an all-star cast. It follows an assortment of characters staying in the Grand Hotel, the most luxurious hotel in Berlin. There’s a broke baron, a retail magnate and his stenographer, a stage actress going through a rough spell, and a lowly administrator who’s there to splurge his life’s savings before he pops off.
While there isn’t one single narrative, the assortment of stories intermix, with all the characters’ actions affecting each other. But across all the story lines there is a common theme: money.
Released at the height of the Great Depression, this isn’t entirely surprising. The Baron (John Barrymore) has fallen on hard times and is left trying to hustle or steal money to pay his debts. It’s implied that there’s more to Joan Crawford’s elegant stenographer than meets the eye, but she’s forced to type for a living. And the dynamic between the retail magnate and the administrator who, it emerges, works for his company, is one of the most interesting relationships in the film.
It highlights the desirability of a certain lifestyle and its importance to people who don’t have it; showing the lengths people will go to to acquire wealth and to maintain it. But ultimately it is a character that isn’t worried about hoarding their wealth that ends the film happiest, and this is perhaps foremost among the various moral messages of the film.
The characters are split between those who have money they don’t need, and those who need money they don’t have, and this is the driving force behind most of the action in the film. The hotel is well constructed, with the busy hubbub of the lobby meticulously created. This was the fifth film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and watching it now it’s clearly stood the test of time. And can anyone think of a better film from 1932?