Friday, January 1, 2010

WEEKEND AT THE WALDORF (MGM 1945) Warner Archive Collection

In 1932, MGM won a Best Picture Oscar for Grand Hotel; the star laden, top heavy melodramatic extravaganza set inside a fictional hotel in Berlin. The film starred Joan Crawford as a social climbing stenographer who falls for a baron (John Barrymore - actually a jewel thief). In it too were Greta Garbo (as an emotionally insecure ballerina), Wallace Beery (as a boorish industrialist) and Lionel Barrymore (as a fatally stricken pensioner whom the stenographer eventually latches on to). Based on a celebrated play by Vicki Baum, Grand Hotel was a stunning success for MGM. It was also the first movie to feature an all-star cast.

Americanized and watered down for the post war generation, director Robert Z. Leonard's Weekend at the Waldorf (1945) doesn't quite pack the same wallop as its predecessor. For starters, there is no climactic murder to send the last act into a suspenseful tail spin. Furthermore distilling the melodrama to melodramatic tripe is the inclusion of Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay performing 'Gualalahara' in the hotel's famed Starlight Room - actually a recreation on the MGM back lot. The number is lavish and enjoyable but really doesn't gel with the other elements in the film - somehow reducing our expectations for more of the same into a sort of musical offshoot that never fully develops.

In this story incarnation, the distraught ballerina has morphed into no-nonsense American film actress, Irene Malvern (Ginger Rogers). Irene is besought by subtle romantic overtures from her agent, Henry Burton (Leon Ames) and by the more obvious affections lobbed at her heart from war correspondent, Chip Collyer (Walter Pigeon) who is, at first, mistaken by Irene to be the lover/jewel thief of her hired maid, Anna (Rosemary DeCamp).

Collyer is leaving for Europe after his weekend stay at the famed hotel, hence, his romance with Irene can only be a fleeting diversion at best. In the meantime, newly engaged Cynthia Drew (Phyllis Thaxter) suspects that Irene is in love with her fiancée - which she is not. To quell Cynthia's suspicions, Irene informs Cynthia that she has married Collyer on the fly, much to his amusement. The rouse, however, turns sour for Irene when Collyer informs her of an old law that states the mere inference of having married someone can, in fact, legally declare that person to be a common law spouse.

In another part of the hotel, public stenographer Bunny Smith (Lana Turner) is in search of any man with a healthy sized wallet to make all her dreams of a Park Ave. apartment come true. One of the hotel's current guests, Martin X. Edley (Edward Arnold) makes just such a proposition to Bunny - having finagled a crooked business deal with the Bey of Aribajan (George Zucco). And although the angle Edley proposes to Bunny is exactly what she's has been looking for, her heart has since hopelessly fallen for returning war hero, Capt. James Hollis (Van Johnson) who is stricken with a tumor from which he may or may not survive.

In true MGM form from this period, none of the more weighty plot entanglements drafted into the screenplay by Sam and Bella Spewack are allowed to impact the overall lushness and glamour of this puff piece. Weekend At the Waldorf is mindless entertainment at best, but magnificently fleshed out by comfortable star performances enjoying the obliviousness of the exercise. The sets and location work succeed in creating a credible environment of high style where both high and low interests can mingle, transfer and ultimately wallow in the sublime sumptuousness of it all.

Owing to the fact that no restoration work has been performed on this title, the Warner Archive edition of Weekend At The Waldorf exhibits a rather inconsistent B&W image with fluctuating gray scale. At times the image is quite smooth in appearance with a rather accurate amount of fine detail evident throughout. However, at other times a considerable amount of grain is present and the image suddenly becomes somewhat soft in appearance. Age related artifacts are obvious and, at times, obtrusive. There are no obvious edge effects or shimmering of fine detail to speak of. The audio is sharp and clean throughout. The only extra feature is a theatrical trailer. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



No comments: