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Monday, January 05, 2015

WB Unlocks Sensation-Filled Best Seller!

Hotel (1967) Mirrors a Vanished Studio Era

Hotel is a lament for old-style hospitality gone the way of corporate takeover, a grand institution brought to knees by progress none but profiteers want. This then, intended or not, was a Hollywood story, Warners itself about to become (in 1969) "A Kinney Company," their logo redone in ugly homage to new bosses. How faceless was Kinney? Enough so to know them, if at all, for parking lots, wood flooring, and quiet ownership of National Periodicals (DC comics). Kinney to show biz was canker upon day when picture companies became raw meat for congloms smelling blood that was annual loss, trouble known across Hollywood board. Maybe that's how Warners came to Hotel with more conviction than customary for in-house product where break-even point was generally a TV sale. Were the title-referenced "St. Gregory" Burbank rather than New Orleans located, this might be story of a proud studio rather than hotel being imperiled, with the WB shield peeled off its signature water tower for a wistful finish.

Hotel was "Grand" in relic sense of multi-characters stood against a going-were-days main lobby set that cost Warners $325K and took up 22,000 square feet of stage space. Extravagance was something with which movies could still impress some people that didn't know real score. The cast was second-drawer starry, an ensemble, and no one dominant: Rod Taylor, Karl Malden, Richard Conte, feature-billed Merle Oberon said to wear $500K's worth of personal jewelry, including "a brooch that once belonged to Marie Antoinette." She'd years later confess to resentment over her part being whittled so as to feature more of import ingenue Catherine Spaak. Hotel was story-told to fragment left of grown-up patronage whose kids lined up instead for Bonnie and Clyde, also from Warners and better indicator of how tastes would hereafter run. Source novel was by Arthur Hailey, writing they could really have used back when movies were movies, his the fuse that later lit Airport, that other glorious last stand for establishment H'wood.

Hotel was stop for old-timers and old souls. Aforementioned Merle Oberon is among tenants, and Melvyn Douglas is upstairs owner. Rod Taylor seems a throwback to lead men the industry had diminishing use for. We could ask why he didn't become a bigger star, even as Hotel answers. Taylor is authoritative, ruggedly male, even jaunty at times (his lobby footwork almost a dance), but Hotel was dawn upon day for the Dustin Hoffmans, or merciful heavens, a Michael J. Pollard, who'd actually get leads in wake of Bonnie and Clyde. Were these the personalities the late 60's deserved? By then, men's men seemed destined for TV, or inactivity. In fact, Taylor would head largely for the tube, as would also promising Brian Keith, another I equate with Taylor in terms of stardom misplaced. You know the St. Gregory has been around years for elevator sound Warners had used since arrival of talkies --- next to their ringing phone, it's a most recognizable of aural effects in Hotel.

Kevin McCarthy checks in as shark pursuing takeover. He'd later check-in locally (1989), doing his Harry Truman show at our Community College. I drove him to and from the airport in Greensboro. He talked of Hotel and other things. Most memorable incident, said KMc, was Merle Oberon inviting the cast south-of-border for recreation at her luxurious digs. Kevin and colleagues swam with Oberon, in her late 50's at the time, him enthusing twenty plus years later that she "had the body of a teenage girl." Proof then, that actors could be impressed by one another in the right circumstance. Hotel had a World Press Premiere in Miami Beach with stars, comped rooms, go-go dancers, the works. It would play limping downtown palaces like the Chicago Theatre, as in ad at top, even as such barns came down sick from urban blight in mid-to-late 60's. The North-South Carolina ABC theatre circuit used Hotel for a project picture after Airport struck big in 1970, touting Arthur Hailey as author of both. Television got Hotel in 1973 (NBC runs). There's a CD soundtrack of the excellent Johnny Keating score (jazzy), and Warner Archive has a DVD. Hotel has also played Warner Instant in HD, and we might expect TCM to run it thus in wake of the network going to true High-Def as opposed to mere upscale from standard-def.


Blogger aldi said...

Instructive to contrast and compare with the cast of MGM's 1932 Grand Hotel - Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore. Now that is what I call an all-star cast!

11:35 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Enjoyed catching up with this one last year, not having seen it since that network debut but, alas, it creaks worse than films thirty years older. Kevin the bad guy may be a religious hypocrite but the film vilifies him primarily for his cost efficiency and playing the race card. It's pretty hard for a 21st century audience see the spotlighting of the St.Gregory's whites only policy as some sort of dirty trick. And maybe if some corporate colossus had taken over the place a little earlier they could have done something about those death trap elevators! Still, Taylor and Spaak good great together and her sixties era wardrobe is practically a special effect all by itself.

11:48 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers a latter-day Norma Desmond in an updated "Hotel":

"Arthur Hailey's Hotel" became a TV series in the 80s, even then a latecomer to the party ("Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" having tilled the same field since the 70s).

Maybe there's room for a remake of "Sunset Boulevard", updated a few decades so Norma is a relic of the studio kingdoms of the 50s, sneering at jeans-clad rivals and saying "I could have saves 'Hotel', but they went with that -- child!"

It might even be set in the present, with Norma longing for the days when "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" toured her mansion, "People" ran her picture all the time, and she was huge on the strength of one hit movie, a sitcom, and endless guest star gigs. "We weren't 'celebrities.' We were STARS!"

2:15 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Yes, WB would soon be bought, not yet by Steve Ross' Kinney Services, but by Eliot Hyman's Seven Arts (and the "W7" logo is about as ugly as the Kinney-era shield).

The "Hotel" TV series of 1982 initially starred Bette Davis, who would be replaced by Anne Baxter. Hmm...

12:08 AM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

I saw Hotel on its first run at Sacramento's Alhambra Theatre, a 2,500-seat Moorish-Rococo palace that (though nobody knew it at the time) was about to go the way of the movie's St. Gregory (no eleventh-hour salvation in real life; a last-ditch Save the Alhambra campaign failed and the wrecking ball got her in 1973).

Mordant irony in Merle Oberon's footage being trimmed to benefit Catherine Spaak. Catherine who? She was one of those European novelties who come along every now and then (Marthe Keller, Alice Krige) who seem to be in every other movie for 18 months, then vanish with hardly a trace.

3:15 AM  
Blogger Juanita's Journal said...

The TV version of "HOTEL" aired on ABC for five seasons.

7:14 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers Merle Oberon, Rod Taylor, and "Hotel":

"Hotel" had a limited re-release in the Philadelphia area to cash in on the success of "Airport." The theater nearest to me carrying it was in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half away by car. However, it coincided with the height of my infatuation with Merle Oberon and my having a car of my own, a 1953 Kaiser Dragon. This would be the first long drive I made in it, and it suggests the degree of my regard for Merle that I would attempt such a trip at such a tender age in such a vehicle. I made it safely and really enjoyed the picture, only being disappointed that she hadn't been given more to do. However, on further acquaintance with her films, I came to realize that that was not necessarily a bad thing. Merle Oberon has no great reputation as an actress, but she was a beautiful and stylish woman and was capable of what amounted to rather affecting cameos, in which, for a lingering moment or two, she suggested a much greater depth than she possessed. Her performance in "Hotel" was an example of that, especially her little "my husband loved me very much" speech at the end, with the catch in her voice and the lovely almond-shaped eyes misting over with emotion.

I've also found it strange that Rod Taylor never became a bigger star, though when he's compared to actors who were contemporaries of his who did, it is evident that he was very different from them. Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Paul Newman, and later Warren Beatty and Robert Redford, all were more nuanced and mysterious, more sensitive, and often more sexually ambiguous. Taylor was decidedly virile and masculine, perhaps a younger and less truculent version of John Wayne. Had he lived in the 'thirties and 'forties, he would have had a solid career as a leading man, but he was not well matched to the time in which he did live. For example, consider these three films in which he appeared: "The Catered Affair," opposite Debbie Reynolds, "Hotel," with Catherine Spaak, and "Sunday in New York," with Jane Fonda. The actresses are very different--Reynolds already an old pro, versatile and well-respected, though never in the top echelon of stardom--Spaak one of those flowers that pop up after a spring rain and are gone by the next morning--and Fonda the next big thing--and yet in each case, Taylor has to drastically tone down his masculinity, as though it would overpower them otherwise. The glasses he wears in "The Catered Affair," the little flustered routine he goes through, dropping ice cubes and knocking glasses over, when he realizes that Spaak has taken off her dress, or the painfully withdrawn shyness he affects with Fonda in her apartment, have the effect of drastically filtering his virile charm. You might think of Gary Cooper in the post-Mr. Deeds portion of his career, as to its effect on his status as a male sex symbol. For Taylor, it was apparently not a period for a man's man, leaving him only with action roles in which he could more or less be himself. Sean Connery was an exception to this, but then he was also James Bond, and someone who would co-opt the better action roles for himself.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

By sad coincidence:

12:05 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

The cast for Hotel implies a regal but past-their-prime tapestry; and no fan of Hailey, I guess its my fortune to not have seen it. Though i like Taylor, Douglas and McCarthy a lot. But through your nice post, if i cross it i may just give it a chance. But i'm now more interested in Dan Mercer's Kaiser DRagon memories -- now that's a car!

1:08 AM  

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