Friday, May 10, 2019

JOAN CRAWFORD, QUEEN OF THE SILVER SCREEN BLOGATHON: Grand Hotel (1932)


Pale Writer and The Poppity are hosting this blogathon tribute to Joan Crawford on May 11th and 12th. You can share in all the tributes to the amazing actress's career by clicking HERE or HERE. Thank you, Gabriela and Erica D!


Vicki Baum's successful 1929 novel Grand Hotel became a popular Broadway hit in 1930 as adapted by W.C. Drake. Among the familiar names involved in the long-running production, you will find Sam Jaffe, Sig Ruman, Albert Dekker, Walter Baldwin, Joseph Calleia, and assistant director Fritz Feld. Only one of that cast would make the trip to Hollywood for the 1932 film, Raefaella Ottiano as Suzanne (renamed Suzette), maid to ballerina Grusinskaya.

Grand Hotel, produced by Irving Thalberg is a distinctive film in MGMs history. Directed by Edmund Goulding and photographed by William Daniels, Grand Hotel is the only film to win the Best Picture Academy Award with no other nominations. It was the first of the all-star pictures, excluding revues which would throw everything and everybody at the screen. MGM would boast of having more stars than there were in the heavens and the players which make up the Grand Hotel ensemble had been audience draws since the recent silent era. Audiences to this day thrill as each name appears on the screen bringing these unforgettable characters to life. 

Each finely drawn character presents the actors with the opportunity to leave a lasting impression with the viewer, but perhaps no one took better advantage of the opportunity than 27-year-old Joan Crawford, the "baby" in the group as far as acting experience.

Joan Crawford

Joan was cast as Miss Flaemm, the hotel stenographer called "Flaemmchen." Her character interacts most prominently with Baron Von Geigern played by John Barrymore, Mr. Kringelein played by Lionel Barrymore, and General Director Preysing played by Wallace Beery. Of these three actors, Joan would only team with Lione again, in the 1936 political drama The Gorgeous Hussy.

Joan is outstanding as Flaemmchen, a young woman trained by life to be cynical, yet her heart has not yet hardened as much as it should. She is adorably modern flirting with the Baron, sweetly gentle with foolish and likable Kringelein, and steels herself admirably for all encounters with Preysing. If someone was not yet a fan of MGMs rising star, surely this role would put them firmly in her corner.

"Nobody ever gives you anything for nothing. You have to buy everything, and pay cash for it."
- Mr. Kringelein

We are visiting the Grand Hotel, Berlin for only two days and will peek into many lives. As Dr. Otternshlag, a wounded veteran played by Lewis Stone cryptically remarks "Grand Hotel -- always the same. People come. People go. Nothing ever happens." 

The Grand Hotel is currently the residence of the famous Russian ballerina, Grusinskaya played by Greta Garbo. She is lonely and deeply depressed, longing for the days of gone by before the Revolution. Baron Von Geigern is a down-on-his-luck aristocrat tasked with using his skill as a hotel thief to relief Grusinskaya of some of her jewellery.

Mr. Kringelein is a poor soul with a medical diagnosis of impending death. He has cashed in his savings and insurance and plans to spend his remaining time in the lap of luxury. Mr. Kringelein has spent his career as a bookkeeper for a textile firm run by the ambitious and ruthless Preysing. Preysing is also at the Grand Hotel in hopes of concluding a very important merger for his company.

Wallace Beery, Joan Crawford

Flaemmchen is a stenographer with scruples, but no illusions. If extra money and trips can be had for the price of being nice to businessmen, then a girl must do what she must. A lobby flirtation with the Baron introduces Flaemmchen to someone she considers fun and a real gentleman. A girl can also dream. Baron Von Geigern is indeed a kind man and he lavishes his kindness on little Kringelein and Flaemmchen. Perhaps Von Geigern feels a kindred spirit in Kringelein, the lost soul from another station in life. He genially teases Flaemmchen, understands her predicament with the dishonest Preysing, and refers to her as the "poor kid."

Greta Garbo, John Barrymore

The Baron is unsuccessful in his bid to steal from Grusinskaya as he has fallen in love. It is "the real thing" that Flaemmchan denies exists. His love is returned and to the lonely ballerina, he shares his history and his life as a thief.

"You know, when I was a little boy I was taught to ride and be a gentleman. Then at school, to pray and lie. And then in the war to kill and hide. That's all."
- Baron Von Geigern

The Baron and the dancer plan a future together, at least as far as a vacation. Now he must find money for he will not share that of a woman he started out to rob.

Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, John Barrymore

Flaemmchen is sad to have lost a chance with the Baron but knows she enjoys his friendship and joins him in taking little Mr. Kringelein under their wings. Nonetheless, duty in the form of money calls, and she accepts the offer of Preysing to continue as his stenographer and more when he makes a trip to England. The trip is a desperate measure on his part as Preysing has lied to advance his business cause and certain failure awaits him.

These characters lives will clash and meld unforgettably as desperation overtakes them all. The Baron and Preysing will meet in violence. Mr. Kringelein and Flaemmchen will come together in grief and longing. The dying man and the "poor kid" will travel until his inevitable end. Flaemmchen is still soft enough to imagine a future where the right doctor will be found to cure the little man. Next stop is the Grand Hotel, Paris.

"There's a Grand Hotel everywhere in the world."
- Mr. Kringelein












32 comments:

  1. As many times as I’ve seen and adored this movie, I think it’s Joanie’s character I tend to notice the least — not because she’s bad; she’s good. It’s just that everyone around her stands out so much more. So I’m glad you gave Joanie her due in this film. She wasn’t quite the superstar we remember her as yet, but she definitely holds her own against all these other superstars.

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    1. MGM certainly kept young Joan Crawford busy during that time. Her films opposite Clark Gable showed she was a popular leading lady, and I think her inclusion in this All-Star production really solidified her status.

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  2. Lovely post. Joan is certainly the most sympathetic character (in my eyes, anyway). She holds her own with some genuine heavy weights, something she seemed to have to do more than once. Seems she always had to prove herself as a good actress. But her fans always knew better.

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    1. Thank you. Flaemmchen is certainly a character we get to know well in such a short period of time. She's one of those tough cookies with a soft centre.

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  3. One thing that I like about Joan is that I read that she kept up an exhaustive correspondence with her fans and friends. She knew the fans put her where she was, they made her a star. Joan wrote AGNES MOOREHEAD a complimentary letter after Agnes won her EMMY Award.

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    1. I think you will enjoy this piece for the blogathon from a blogger who focuses on letters: https://starsandletters.blogspot.com/2019/05/joan-crawford-her-devotion-to-her-fans.html

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  4. Absolutely fabulous review, Patricia. It actually brought tears to my eyes. I love how you described Joan’s performance and the traits of her character. I think she gives such a modern performance in this film and therefore really stands out. Everyone is great, but as you pointed out, Joan is able to show so many conflicting ideals and desires. Thank you so much for taking part in our Blogathon 💚

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    1. Thank you for hosting the blogathon. I have admired Joan in this film for a long time but needed the inspiration to write.

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  5. In my opinion, Joan Crawford and Wallace Beery are the best thing about "Grand Hotel", and that's saying a lot. I love how this film captures the post-WWI mood of a defeated nation, and I love the way Joan herself captures a youthful mix of optimism and slight desperation. The film misses her when she's not there.

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    1. Yes. You are so right. Her presence is felt and missed. Beery outdid himself in this role, as well. A movie to point to with pride for those involved.

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  6. I've always been fan of movies that place a bunch of stars in a single setting. Yes, that includes THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY, HOTEL, TEN LITTLE INDIANS, etc. I'm not sure if GRAND HOTEL was the first of these movies, but it was the first one I saw. It does indeed provide a fine early role for Joan Crawford!

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    1. I hear you. All that luxurious misery!

      You reminded me that I haven't watched The High and the Mighty in a long time. I'll watch and consider myself a smart cookie for not traveling.

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  7. Wonderful post, and an interesting choice as Joan was quite good in those early ensemble pieces.

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    1. Blogathons give my little grey cells a workout. My natural disposition is to lounge.

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  8. I saw this film several years ago and I really liked Joan in this film. I had never seen her in a Pre-Code before. She looks so great here with her thirties hairdo and without the shoulder pads. I also felt she acted quite natural as opposed to Greta Garbo whom I found terribly mechanical. Great post, makes me want to rewatch this!

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    1. It is the sort of movie in which one can loose themselves. I find Joan's performance and her character very refreshing. The more you see of Joan in this era, the more you will be impressed.

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  9. Over 20 years ago I read about Joan being on THE SECRET STORM as the temporary replacement for her daughter Christina when she was sick. The character was in her 20s and Joan was 64, I think. Speaking of STORM I remember you stated you saw DIANE LADD on the soap. I looked up some information on it today. LAURENCE LUCKINBILL was on it at one time, in the late 60s. Joan was on it in 1968. Earlier ROBIN STRASSER was on it. She was later on GENERAL HOSPITAL in her best-known role as DORIAN LORD. STRASSER is the ex-wife of LUCKINBILL who has been married to LUCIE ARNAZ since 1980. Luckinbill has 2 children with Strasser and 3 with Lucie Arnaz. Back to Joan Crawford-she guest-starred on a show that Lucies mother had,THE LUCY SHOW, obviously starring the one and only LUCILLE BALL.

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    1. I remember Joan Crawford replacing Christina for a few days on The Secret Storm. I felt embarrassed at the time. At the age of 11, I thought it was strange that they had replaced a young actress with someone so much older.

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  10. Have you seen the BARRYMORE brothers in very many movies? One movie that I remember Lionel in (besides ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE) is YOU CANT TAKE IT WITH YOU with JIMMY STEWART. Do you know the work of their sister ETHEL? I liked the movie PINKY with JEANNE CRAIN, ETHEL WATERS and ETHEL BARRYMORE. Two ETHELS!

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    1. Lionel is my favourite. I love him in Ah, Wilderness!, Down to the Sea in Ships, and Broken Lullaby, along with those you mentioned. My favourites with John are Counsellor-at-Law and Twentieth Century. I love watching Ethel in Kind Lady, The Spiral Staircase, Moonrise, The Farmer's Daughter, and Portrait of Jennie.

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  11. Great post about a very moving film I absolutely love. Top notch cast but we can really see that Joan already had that undefinable star quality.

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    1. Joan shines so bright in this film. Her light pierces the darkness.

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  12. Speaking of ETHEL BARRYMORE she played the aunt to DORIS DAY in YOUNG AT HEART. Sadly DORIS died today(MAY 13, 2019). There never was an actress like DORIS and there never will be. Doris was the number one box office draw of the 1960s, I read;note not just for the women but of everyone. I know a woman who reminds me of Miss Day, mostly because her hair is similar and her blue eyes. One time she was eating out and a couple told her they were neighbors of Doris and they commented on her resemblance. Doris was a singer, an actress, and an animal activist. She hosted a show about animals. Her friend JACKIE JOSEPH is the only female co-star left from THE DORIS DAY SHOW.

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    1. I first knew Doris as a singer from albums in the family. It was such a treat to discover the wonderful actress and her movies when I was a teen.

      Doris's co-star in Romance on the High Seas and Please Don't Eat the Daisies, is the same age and fortunately still with us. I saw her on the Tony Awards a few years ago and she looked lovely. Janis played Babe in The Pajama Game on Broadway and Doris played the role in the movie version.

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  13. I love Gtand Hotel so much, and I loved your review - complete with quotes! Flaemmchen is the character who intrigued me the most, for all her contradictions and humanity.
    Kisses!

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    1. Indeed. The spark of humanity burns bright in Flaemmchen.

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  14. I also know LIONEL BARRYMORE from the western DUEL IN THE SUN with JOSEPH COTTEN, GREGORY PECK & JENNIFER JONES. The wife of Barrymores character was played by MISS LILLIAN GISH that I also saw in THE UNFORGIVEN with AUDREY HEPBURN. What do you know Lillian Gish best from? I also know her from THE WHALES OF AUGUST with BETTE DAVIS where they played sisters.(Speaking of Audrey & Bette it wasn't very long ago that you wrote about them.)

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    1. I have seen many of Gish's performances in silent pictures such as The Wind, La Boheme, Way Down East, Orphans of the Storm, The Scarlet Letter, One Romantic Night.

      I haven't seen Duel in the Sun in years. I'd almost forgotten about it. From the sound era I enjoy Miss Gish in The Night of the Hunter, The Unforgiven, and Commandos Strike at Dawn.

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  15. I saw Joan in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING as the boss. It also had HOPE LANGE, DIANE BAKER,& MARTHA HYER (Ive seen a lot of their work and am a fan of all three.)It also had SUZY PARKER, STEPHEN BOYD, BRETT HALSEY, ROBERT EVANS, and LOUIS JOURDAN. Joan didn't have a big part but she did a good job playing the boss.

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    1. Movies about 3 girls trying to make their way could be their own genre, and the director of The Best of Everything Jean Negulesco seemed to make it a specialty with Three Coins in the Fountain, How to Marry a Millionaire, Woman's World and The Pleasue Seekers.

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  16. HOPE LANGE (THE BEST OF EVERYTHING) was once married to DON MURRAY (BUS STOP that Hope was also in.) They had two children. I first knew Don from KNOTS LANDING as SID FAIRGATE. Then I saw him in classic movies including two that a lot of people might not know, ONE FOOT IN HELL-a western with ALAN LADD and HATFUL OF RAIN(about drug addiction) with EVA MARIE SAINT, ANTHONY FRANCIOSA & LLOYD NOLAN. I am a big fan of Hope & Don. Don has been married to his second wife since August 1962. They wed and later that day they found out that MARILYN MONROE had died that day. Don had been the co-star with her in BUS STOP, his first movie. He got an OSCAR nom for that movie. Don is now 89.

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    1. Like you, I'm a fan of both Hope Lange and Don Murray. You got me thinking and I believe the first time I saw Don Murray was in the Disney movie Justin Morgan Had a Horse. It was written by Marguerite Henry who wrote a lot of books about horses I read as a girl.

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