Grand Hotel feels like it's going to be less than it is. During the first hour I got the feeling that the characters were going to go though a few things. They would learn about each other and grow as characters as the movie progresses, and then the movie ends. But I was surprised.
This movie is actually building to something happening. Today we would call it a twist, though I hesitate to classify it in the same way. I won't give it away because today we would call that a spoiler.
There are a couple themes in the movie that I noticed. The first is about money and how it affects people is such different ways. Some have it and don't know what to do with it. Some have it and want more. Some don't have it. That changes how each person acts in the movie as it interweaves the stories of the different characters.
The second theme is about life passing you by. About life continuing without you. The end of the movie (and this isn't a spoiler, I don't think) shows new people checking into the hotel. The staff is moving along to a new day. And the doctor, who waits in the lobby for something to happen )though most of the action takes place upstairs), states, "Grand Hotel. People come and go. Nothing ever happens."
For the first part of the movie, I was trying to think of who Joan Crawford reminded me of. Not only her looks, but her facial mannerisms brought to my mind Kate Winslet. A quick Google search shows that Winslet is going to be playing a role that Crawford originally played in a remake of Mildred Pierce (a movie I haven't seen).
For my criticisms, Grand Hotel feels very much like a play. In fact the opening scene in the hotel lobby is a series of very long takes. I originally thought it might have been one ten minute take, but it looks like there were a couple edits. Much like the previous Oscar winners, everyone is acting to the balcony seats. Everyone is too close of a talker for me to handle. Thank goodness for widescreen these days so that two people can fit in one frame comfortably. The music wasn't scored, but was simply music played over the dialogue. For example, the opening scene we hear the Blue Danube waltz by Strauss. And in a few scenes the music didn't fit. But at some point, the music stopped. I didn't notice it until one of the characters actually said that the music stopped. It was an effective moment.
This is the first of the Oscar winners that I think I might watch again someday (unless I end up teaching a class that shows All Quiet on the Western Front). I can't recommend it to the casual movie goer. But for someone who appreciates movies, there's some history here. Grand Hotel shows how you can have a movie about several different characters while their stories overlap and come together at the end. And we've definitely seen many of that type since then. In fact, one name for this type of movie is a "grand hotel" film.