Saturday, January 16, 2016

Nothing Happens Here

I'm not going to lie, I'd never seen "Grand Hotel" before. Somewhere out there, I know my film friends are recoiling in horror.

Even so, I almost missed it today at Movialand, sleeping in longer than I intended to, although not as long as a friend off in Washington for the weekend, who posted, "Can't think of the last time I got out of bed after noon. Feeling 22 and 92 all at once. Thanks, D.C.!"

Personally, I see nothing old lady-like about sleeping in. My measuring stick is when I went to bed plus nine hours and, voila! I'm up, whatever time that may be. Today, it allowed just enough time for a quick bowl of cereal and a fast walk to the Bowtie under sunny skies.

Among the many surprises about this film (besides that only five people attended) was learning that this is where Garbo's famous line, "I want to be alone" came from. That and, man, was she flat-chested.

It was easily the youngest role I'd ever seen Joan Crawford in - Joan before she was a caricature of herself - so young she didn't yet have those awful eyebrows or exaggerated lipstick mouth. And no enormous shoulder pads, either. In fact, playing a stenographer, she wore the same dress the entire movie something Miss Crawford never would have allowed in her heyday.

But I could still see the seeds of the character she would become, such as when the meek Otto offers to buy her a drink, namely the same rum-based Louisiana Flip he's drinking, and she demurs with, "No, absinthe."

Now there's a woman after my own heart.

John Barrymore plays the baron, a charming man with no money who asks her, "Don't you like dancing with strangers?" She apparently doesn't, while I have no such hang-up.

Since the film began with naming the many characters and the actors playing them, I knew that Lionel Barrymore was one of them, but it took me until the final 15 minutes to recognize him, and then it was only because of his voice.

Yes, I know he's a member of the esteemed Barrymores, but my only frame of reference for him is "It's a Wonderful Life" and the physical similarities were non-existent (hair present, belly absent). During a key scene, though, he sounded so much like Mr. Potter that the light bulb finally went off in my head.

Since I knew almost nothing about the film going in besides a vague notion that it had a star-studded cast, I wasn't even sure when it had been made. Given the luminous Art Deco set of the hotel, my guess was the '30s.

But it sure wasn't the circumspect kind of '30s films that immediately comes to mind. Unmarried characters stay in the same hotel room overnight. A married man buys a woman's services to accompany him to London. An unscrupulous businessman lies to potential partners with no repercussions. Scantily-clad women sashay around men. Men exercising in nothing but a towel. Wait a minute...

Midway through the movie, it dawned on me that this had to be a pre-Hays Code film, otherwise these characters would never have gotten away with such "unseemly" (in other words, real life) behavior. Wow, this was an old movie.

More importantly, another notch in my cultural literacy belt.

Favorite line:  "A man who is not with a woman is a dead man." It's good to know that some sentiments are timeless.

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