Tuesday, September 29, 2015


In the same way that GRAND HOTEL followed the intersecting storylines of a number of people staying in a Berlin hotel, this film follows the same formula with a number of people on a luxury liner sailing from Germany to New York City. In an opening vignette, we see the contrast between a young lad excited to get 20 marks for his voyage from his father, and a rich businessman casually tossing a 20 mark tip to a steward. This highlights one of the movie's thematic concerns, the class differences of the passengers, from lower class folks down in steerage to the wealthy up in first class. Among the characters we get to know: Zita Johann is a young nurse with a tragedy in her past that keeps her aloof and a bit mysterious; George Brent is a doctor who boards at the last minute in order to talk his estranged wife out of leaving him; Vivienne Osborne is Brent's wife who may be a bit tightly wound, and the man she's running off with is Frank Morgan, a wealthy shipping magnate; C. Aubrey Smith is a former clothing manufacturer who just got out of jail for embezzlement; Alice White is a flirty little gold-digger who wants to latch onto a man who can get her up to first class, though she’s not above a little flirtation with the cute elevator operator (Henry Wadsworth), both pictured at right.

As is GRAND HOTEL and DINNER AT EIGHT, the plots develop slowly as characters interact with each other. Brent, who arrives at the ship practically in hysterics wanting his wife back, talks the ship's doctor, an old friend of his, into letting let him take over for this trip. As Brent works with Johann and she sees his calm, inspiring bedside manner with a young mother and an elderly woman, she begins to thaw and romantic feelings spring up. Still, Brent confronts Osborne and she brandishes a gun to get him out of her cabin. Later, however, she finds out that her new lover is flirting with an opera singer and she pretty much snaps. Down in steerage, Smith becomes popular when he agrees to help the desperate lower-class travelers invest their money in stocks that White overheard Morgan talking up. By the end, there is a birth, a murder, a suicide, and some financial reversals. Some plotlines end predictably (Brent and Johann), some not (White and Smith). This was an enjoyable melodrama, though the tone remains relatively light throughout despite the murder and suicide. The acting is fine, with Johann, Osborne and White as standouts, and it’s fun to see C. Aubrey Smith out of his comfort zone—rich grandfathers—doing something a little different. This is the second time this summer I've seen Alice White and I think she's an underrated comic actress, with a little bit of a Harlow vibe, though sweeter and more pixieish. I ran across this rarity on YouTube and it's worth digging around to find. [YouTube]

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