23 July 2005 | silverscreen888
Genial Reshaping of "Grand Hotel"; Walter Pideon Dominates
This is my favorite wartime satire-comedy for three reasons. One is the towering performance by Walter Pigeon as the war correspondent Chip Collyer who falls in love with a lovely actress; the second is the setting in the world's first self-contained hotel-residence center, the twin-towered Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, known all over the world by its single initial "W"; the third is because it is a very United States' adaptation of Vicki Baum's "Grand Hotel", and as a writer, its adaptation problem has always interested me. The second film is related to the film much as "Marlowe" is related to the novel "The Little Sister". Angst, heavy drama and most of the shadows were removed; what was left was a genial, sometimes thoughtful and I assert an interesting set of four major inter-twined story-lines. They have, I suggest, a common theme, namely "one must find a reason to enjoy life, even if it takes risks, honesty and perseverance." One story line involved a war correspondent and an actress who mistakes him for the Jewel thief she has been expecting, her maid's errant boyfriend; a second focused on a soldier facing a 50-50 life-death operation and the pretty secretary he meets who is looking for a rich husband, not him; third there was the young reporter seeking an interviews with a visiting sheik who is shunted by the war correspondent into exposing a fraudulent entrepreneur; and fourth there was the shady entrepreneur trying to steal millions from the sheik, and hire the secretary. All four main protagonists of the story lines were missing something in their lives, and trying to understand how to deal with what they lacked--by denial, action, indirect efforts, etc. Within their stories, there move two rich about-to-be-marrieds, the actress's maid and her boyfriend (whom we never meet), band-leader Xavier Cugat who is appearing at the hotel and agrees to play a song written by the soldier's dead comrade, the war correspondent's boss, a man from a State Department office also wooing the sheik, and the hotel staff--especially the banks of human female telephone operators and the stenographers. The B/W cinematography by Robert H. Planck is very good, and nearly all shot indoors; music was provided by Johnny Green and the Cugat band. Veteran Robert Z. Leonard directed, and somehow managed to give the film a consistent and lucid style all its own, no mean feat by my standards. The script altering the much darker play "Grand Hotel" was adapted by Guy Bolton and written by Sam and Sella Spewack. The sound by Douglas Shearer is remarkably adroit at all points. Art direction was performed by Daniel B. Cathcart and legendary Cedric Gibbons, with set decorations by Edwin B. Willis and Jack Bonar. Irene and Marion Herwood Keyes provided the many costumes. In the cast, Pigeon deserved an award for his work as the war correspondent, and Edward Arnold did a solid job as the shady promoter. Van Johnson played the soldier opposite Lana Turner, both being adequately cast; the Shiekh was George Zucco, the actress attractive Ginger Rogers, the maid Rosemary De Camp with a German accent. Keenan Wynn was lively as the young reporter, Robert Benchley provided low-key comedy and a narration here and there, Phyllis Thaxter was the nervous bride, Leon Ames was the actress's manager, with Jacqueline De Witt, Warner Anderson and Miles Mander in good roles also, along with the volatile Cugat. The film cannot really be compared to its illustrious half-brother; this narrative in my view was supposed to be and is a genial, only-slightly-cynical wartime film that extracted some people from the recent war and showed them trying to find a strong personal reason for living--whether as in the solider's case for great reasons or in the actress's case because she had put off thinking of herself for far too long. It is a charming, discursive and attractive project, in my estimation; and it could be remade very well, if the right leads could perhaps be found and the project given a third life in another great hostelry.