Grand Hotel

Garbo got me into the building, but she’s not the reasongarbo I stayed. Her tired Russian ballerina falls for the same kind of man she would fall for as a humorless Russian revolutionary in Ninotchka. Can I help it if I found the revolutionary more enchanting?

Fortunately, the ballerina’s story is just one of many that weave through this picture. That man she falls for, a dissolute aristocrat (John Barrymore), also flirts with the stenographer (Joan Crawford) who was hired by the swindling businessman (Wallace Beery) to take dictation and possibly provide other services . . .  There’s also a wounded veteran of World War I (Lewis Stone) and a little bookkeeper (Lionel Barrymore), who recently received a terminal diagnosis and has determined to spend his final days in style. John Barrymore may have had the looks in the family, but Lionel’s quiet charm won me over.

Such goings on, before the Hayes Code went into effect! The ballerina and the aristocrat spend the night together. The stenographer contemplates selling her body to the businessman for the price of a few nice outfits and a junket to London. The bookkeeper wins big at poker, helped along by the aristocrat, and goes off to Paris with the stenographer in the hope of finding a cure.

Did Grand Hotel deserve to beat out Shanghai Express for Best Picture in 1932? I wouldn’t say so, but it’s an enjoyable enough romp through Berlin in its heyday.


The Women

This one’s a weeper.  Norma Shearer’s straightforward and endearing heroine, Mary, is surrounded by ill will.  Her so-called friends can’t wait for her to discover that her husband’s having an affair—and not with someone in their set, but with a scheming shopgirl played by Joan Crawford.  The humiliation is simply too much to bear!


Mary’s mother tells her to swallow her pride.  They didn’t call it an open marriage in 1939, but that’s what a woman in Mary’s position was expected to put up with, to keep her home intact.  Men have their appetites, you know?

But Mary goes ahead and confronts her cheating husband, takes herself off to Reno and gets a divorce.  Only after it comes through does she admit to herself that she still loves the scoundrel.  And Crawford’s character is such a bad girl.  There she’s got Mary’s husband right where she wants him, he gives her everything she asks for, and she’s cheating on him?  Talking all lovey dovey to her new beau on the phone while taking a bubble bath?  How wicked can you get?

When Mary finds out, she decides to fight back.  “I’ve had two years to grow claws,” she tells her mother, brandishing her newly-manicured fingernails.  “Jungle red!”

So have yourself a good cry.  You’ll be smiling by the end.  Between the catty dialogue and the stellar performances (don’t miss Rosalind Russell!), “The Women” is another George Cukor gem.