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Grand Hotel

(1932, Goulding)
The first Best Picture winner I haven't seen

"Grand Hotel... always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens."

The above quote is how Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) describes life at the titular hotel in Berlin, Germany. Nothing ever happens. But after almost two hours of runtime, we do realize that things *do* happen at the Grand Hotel; a great deal, actually. This Best Picture winner follows the comings and goings of a handful of guests at the hotel, most of which intertwine in interesting and unexpected ways.

Most notable among the guests are Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), an ill bookkeeper who has decided to spend his last days in luxury; General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery), a businessman, and Kringelein's boss, who's trying to close an important deal at all costs; Miss Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), a progressive stenographer hired by Preysing; Russian ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), whose career is in the decline pushing her into depression; and Baron Von Geigern (John Barrymore), a gambler and jewel thief who's trying to come up with money to pay a former colleague.

Writer and playwright Tom Stoppard once wrote about hotel rooms that they "inhabit a separate moral universe", and perhaps that's why all these guests coincide in this place where they aim to do things that they won't necessarily do otherwise or just that aren't necessarily legal. From Kringelein's "last days" ventures into dancing and gambling or the Baron's attempt to steal some jewels, to Preysing's attempt to lure his potential partners, while also toying with adultery and even murder.

Although one would certainly want a bit more development from some characters, Grand Hotel does manage to balance its ensemble cast fairly well. Still, the pace seems a bit scattered at times and, although the film maintains a mostly light tone, there's a shift towards the bleak that seemed a bit abrupt to me. However, most of the performances are pretty good, with John Barrymore and Joan Crawford being the highlights for me. Finally, the set design was quite impressive, highlighted by some neat camerawork, especially in the lobby scenes.

In the closing shots, all of the above guests abandon the hotel one way or another, only to make space for new guests that arrive. People come, people go... new stories, new conflicts, new dramas of who knows what. "Nothing ever happens".