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"'Grand Hotel' theme" films

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Grand Hotel (1932) was recently released on Blu-ray. Among its distinctions, dubious and otherwise, are the following:

  • It's the film in which Greta Garbo actually uttered the words, "I want to be alone."
  • It is the only film ever to win Best Picture without being even nominated in any other category. (Only two other Best Picture winners, Broadway Melody (1929) and Mutiny On the Bounty (1935), have failed to win any other categories. Perhaps it's also worth noting that only two other Best Picture winners, With Wings (1927) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989), have won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. If Argo wins this year, it will become the fourth such film, and one of only two such films since 1932, along with Driving Miss Daisy. Incidentally, Driving Miss Daisy was also recently released on Blu-ray.)
  • According to Tim Dirks of Filmsite.org, "the film marked the first major use of a large all-star cast that would later be copied in Dinner at Eight (1933), Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and The Towering Inferno (1974), among others."
  • According to Wikipedia, "The phrase "Grand Hotel theme" came to be used for any dramatic movie following the activities of various people in a large busy place, with some of the characters' lives overlapping in odd ways and some of them remaining unaware of one another's existence. Such "grand hotel" films have been set at airports, aboard ocean liners, in large department stores, etc., as well as in hotels. Neil Simon alone used the format in both play and film versions of Plaza Suite, California Suite, and London Suite."

Those last two notes got me thinking. Obviously there would be overlaps between films with "large all-star casts" and "Grand Hotel theme films," but the two wouldn't be identical. Grand Hotel theme films could be cast with unknowns, and films with large all-star casts could take shapes other than "following the activities of various people in a large busy place, with some of the characters' lives overlapping in odd ways and some of them remaining unaware of one another's existence."

Then I started wondering: What are some iconic or typical Grand Hotel theme films? Other than the film versions of Neil Simon plays, Wikipedia doesn't list any specific titles (and neither do other a number of other websites I checked that use the term). Wiki does mention Grand Hotel films being set in "airports" and "ocean liners," which suggests two films Dirks mentions, Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. But these are disaster movies, in which "the activities of various people in a large busy place" are overshadowed by a shared crisis. If those are Grand Hotel films, it's in a somewhat broader, less specific sense, or perhaps they start out as Grand Hotel films and then become something else.

So, again: What are some iconic or typical Grand Hotel theme films?

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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How about Gosford Park? I know the setting is rather isolated, but certainly there's the enormous cast (many famous...) and although there's a nominal story thrust, there are definitely different strands for different groups of characters. And I'm sure many of the 'upstairs' folk couldn't put a name to a face where the servants are concerned. Good movie, too. I love the Ivor Novello soundtrack.

(Oh, and if you accept GP I suppose Rules Of The Game would also qualify?)

Edited by Anodos

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How about Gosford Park? I know the setting is rather isolated, but certainly there's the enormous cast (many famous...) and although there's a nominal story thrust, there are definitely different strands for different groups of characters. And I'm sure many of the 'upstairs' folk couldn't put a name to a face where the servants are concerned. Good movie, too. I love the Ivor Novello soundtrack.

(Oh, and if you accept GP I suppose Rules Of The Game would also qualify?)

Yes, Gosford Park occurred to me, and possibly other Altman films as well, though I'm not nearly as familiar with his oeuvre as I should be.

As for Rules of the Game, sure, it might qualify in terms of form, but this suggestion clarifies for me that I'm most interested in films for which Grand Hotel would have been, directly or indirectly, a significant precedent. That lineage is easy to posit for Hollywood films; with Renoir I'm not so sure (though I guess it's possible).

And of course Renoir was working from a 19th-century play. Would that play have looked like a Grand Hotel story? Or did it become something more like that in Renoir's hands? That's an interesting question.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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So, again: What are some iconic or typical Grand Hotel theme films?

Peter Nicks's THE WAITING ROOM.

I've not seen it, but I assume UNITED 93.

Most college or education films: Larry Crowne, The Paper Chase, Mona Lisa Smile, etc.

Best Exotic Marigold Globe Theater (umm, I mean Hotel)

M*A*S*H*, Nashville, (i.e. anything Robert Altman)

If you wanted to stretch, maybe The Bridge of the San Luis Rey (although that's a better book than film).

More or less any Agatha Christie mystery (Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, etc.)

If you wanted to get into television, then that's pretty much a staple, isn't it, with all the Law & Orders, all the medical procedurals, The West Wing, etc.

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Code Unknown (2000) - many stories all interweaving at a Paris street corner with very few people aware of each other

Inception (2010) - many characters in a large busy place and lives intersect in very odd ways

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) - takes place on a train with many unusual characters, although almost all of them do all know each other. Actually a lot of Agatha Christie mysteries seem to fit a "Grand Hotel Theme."

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) - this one's a stretch, but all the inmates are probably not aware of McMurphy even though many of them are

Surely Woody Allen has something in his ouevre that would qualify as a Grand Hotel Theme film?

Maybe Hugo?


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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I started to mention the Agatha Christie films of the 70s and 80s, but didn't. So I guess I'll have to third them. FWIW, off the top of my head, I think the big screen adaptations were:

Murder on the Orient Express

Death on the Nile

The Mirror Crack'd

Evil Under the Sun

Appointment with Death

Ustinov (who took over as Poirot in Death on the Nile) also played Poirot in a number of television adaptations between Evil and Appointment (had to check IMDB for that).

There's also the adaptations of Christie's variously-titled Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None (1945, 1965, and 1974; only the latter two of which, IIRC, really played up the big-star casting angle).

The Thin Man movies don't really count since most of them aren't set in a single locale, but Song of the Thin Man comes close (for that matter, if you dug into the classic mystery movies of the 30s and 40s--particularly the B pictures--you would find a lot of movies that are "Grand Hotel" in most respects, except for not having an all-star cast).

What about The Lady Vanishes? I know that movie made minor stars out of the actors who played Caldicott and Charters, but I'm not sure how well known the rest of the cast was at the time.

By the same token---Night Train to Munich.

Edited by NBooth

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Godard's Detective


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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*Trying to upload, in response, an image of one of the Babies babies, but being denied permission by the site.*


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Maybe I'm interrupting a private joke, but here...

babies_2010_a_l.jpg

Scratch that, I don't care if I am interrupting. The baby is so darn cute it can stay.

Edited by Anodos

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The Norwegian film Hawaii, Oslo fits the characters overlapping without realizing it criterion, though it's not really set in a single location. The Hawaii, Oslo bar is a key setting in the film, though.

The ending of the Three Colors trilogy does the overlapping thing, too, but that's about it as far as this category goes.

Magnolia.


It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Maybe I'm interrupting a private joke, but here...

babies_2010_a_l.jpg

Scratch that, I don't care if I am interrupting. The baby is so darn cute it can stay.

Thanks! That was exactly the image I was trying to get.


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Wait... did Russ post something before SDG posted that image of Captain Kirk?


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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That's right. Moments afterward, something inside me told me it wasn't really that funny, and would be an unnecessary distraction.


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Okay. So how many of these Grand Hotel films would Grand Hotel actually be a significant precedent for? If you were making a case for Grand Hotel blazing a trail for later films, for its influence on cinema, which films would you cite?

Hm. I just ran across a review of the film that concludes, "Its fascinating and diverse characters and a rather dark ending, however, give Grand Hotel more heft than any of its hellish spawn such as The Love Boat or Fantasy Island." Those strike me as the most exact parallels so far, albeit for small screen.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I haven't seen Grand Hotel, but when you mentioned the kind of film you were looking for, my first thought was Nashville, which Ken also mentioned. It's difficult to imagine that Grand Hotel's ending is darker than Nashville's.


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