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Grand Hotel

In Edmund Goulding's Grand Hotel (1932) the main set, the hotel's lobby, has a circular reception desk at its center. Around the desk Cedric Gibbons designed a bold pattern of alternating black and white squares that resolve into increasingly extended diamonds as the pattern turns into a vortex with the desk as its center. Circular movement around the hub of the desk is the guiding structural principle of the film. This principle literalizes the desk's allegorical standing as the center around which the characters' lives revolve. The film's metaphor of the gigantic urban hotel as a microcosm of life relies on this central point of reference. The Grand Hotel itself is an enclosed world--the scenes are seldom enacted outside it and are always attached its exterior. The building, especially in dramatic process shots of its internal balconies, is essentially a manifestation of the principle of the strong center, the vortex that pulls everything toward it. Those who arrive are sucked into its orbit, those who are trapped there, like the doctor and the baron, revolve endlessly around it, and those who leave must make an effort to stride across the vortex, across its current, to make a straight line for the doors.

The hotel sets, though impressive, are quite simple. The film was based on Vicki Baum's German play, which also ran on Broadway (Vermilye 76). The original novel had been an international best-seller and the film retained the German setting and character names. Gibbons' sets feature a modified Art Deco look associated with the continental and cosmopolitan world evoked in the film. The lobby set is impressively large, flexible, and visually powerful. But none of the sets had the kind of flamboyance associated with other, less realistically-inclined Gibbons designs such as Our Blushing Brides (1930), Our Modern Maidens (1929), or Born to Dance (1935) (Barsacq 58-59). Despite the remark quoted by Barsacq that all Gibb...

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Grand Hotel. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 09:12, April 22, 2019, from