Berlin's plushest, most expensive hotel is the setting where in the words of Dr. Otternschlag "People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.".
Though the Grand Hotel is dated, with at times bad acting, a slow start and annoying production quality (that plagued most of the first sound films), it is still an enjoyable film. Yet not a necessary watch when it comes to film history. Even if it was the best picture Oscar winner of 1932.
The film starts off with Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) telling the audience that at the Grand Hotel, “People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.” Though we later learn that this is all too wrong. From there a slew of fast paced, amusing introductions to each character is made through a series of phone calls. We meet Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), who is terminally ill and spending the rest of his money to live up the few weeks he has left. His former bully of a boss, Preysing (Wallace Beery), is also spending a night in the hotel to seal a major deal for his company. Then there is the Baron von Geigern (John Barrymore), the playboy socialite who is secretly broke and only at the hotel to steal the famous dancer Grusinskaya’s (Greta Garbo) pearl necklace to make some money. Lastly we meet Preysing’s stenographer, Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford).
Once they are introduced, their lives entangle in the various ways that a modern day television soap opera would. Flaemmchen falls in love with the Baron who falls in love the dancer he is supposed to rob, leaving him with the dilemma of having love and being broke or getting the money he desperately needs. To add another side to the love tangle, Preysing falls for his stenographer, even though he is married. Meanwhile, Kringelein lives up his life in a state of drunkenness while building up courage to confront his old boss once and for all. All while Dr. Otternschlag sits back and watches.
All of these storylines along with a major accident pile up making an entertaining third act. Yet just when the film is getting exciting there is a climax that is only half fulfilled, for the guests eventually check out and when they do, so does the audience. For viewers who love resolution, this might be frustrating. For just when the movie is getting exciting, it ends. Then again, it is just a peek into one day at The Grand Hotel. The best part of the film is the ensemble casts acting, some good, some funny and others just amusing to watch. Lionel Barrymore gives the best performance in the film, being both funny and heartfelt. Yet the screen legend Greta Garbo gives a comically bad performance, with acting so over the top you can’t help but laugh at it. Wallace Beery, who purposely tried to upstage all the other actors, gives an amusing performance as well.