Hotel Imperial

  • 1939
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

This truly was a jinxed film. Based on a celebrated Hungarian play by Lajos Biro and made as a silent in 1927 with Pola Negri, it was revived as a talkie twice during the 1930s and was finally completed with Italian star Miranda (who would make only two other American films before returning permanently to Europe). She plays a chambermaid in a small hotel...read more

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This truly was a jinxed film. Based on a celebrated Hungarian play by Lajos Biro and made as a silent in 1927 with Pola Negri, it was revived as a talkie twice during the 1930s and was finally completed with Italian star Miranda (who would make only two other American films before

returning permanently to Europe). She plays a chambermaid in a small hotel in Gallacia which is overrun during WW I by Russians and Austrians who keep taking and retaking the town. Miranda, however, is only impersonating a maid while she seeks the killer of her sister, and, after endless

intrigues, she finally unearths the murderer, Naish, and takes her revenge. This was an expensively produced film, but it is so muddled by an ambiguous script and is so lamely directed by Florey that it could not help but flop. No one really expected this film to succeed since its history had been

pockmarked with disaster. The original silent had been directed by the great Swedish director Mauritz Stiller, who discovered Greta Garbo and brought her to the US. In 1936 Paramount dug out the story, hired Henry Hathaway to direct it as a talkie, and ordered Marlene Dietrich to go before the

cameras to act the role of the vengeance-seeking lady. Dietrich was then in box-office decline, even though the studio was paying her $200,000 a film, making her--next to Mae West--the highest paid actress in Hollywood. She had been protected and coddled by director Josef von Sternberg, but, after

breaking with him, she relied upon Ernst Lubitsch, then running Paramount, to make sure she received the right vehicles and proper directors who would respect her talents. Hathaway respected only action and males who mistreated ladies in films. He was rough-and-tumble, and to him Dietrich was just

another prima donna. The film was retitled INVITATION TO HAPPINESS, and Dietrich didn't bother to read the script. Hathaway wanted to take the glamor out of the star. In the biography Marlene he is quoted as saying: "My idea for HOTEL IMPERIAL was to start with a shot of a long, wide hallway, and

a woman scrubbing and mopping the floor. She has dirty hair and dirty clothes; she is wearing old carpet slippers. She's a slob. As she gets the guy and hides him and as she falls in love with him, she gets progressively prettier." At first Dietrich played along, but she never dirtied herself up

the way Hathaway wanted. She would appear on the set and look clean, with traces of makeup. "You're not supposed to be pretty until next Thursday," Hathaway would yell. "Can't I be pretty by this Wednesday?" Dietrich would implore. Dietrich finally rejected the script, and Hathaway rewrote the

original John van Druten script with Grover Jones, retitling the film I LOVED A SOLDIER. Lubitsch, meanwhile, had been ousted from studio control, and Dietrich seized upon this to quit the film, pointing out that if Lubitsch was not the line producer of her films, as her Paramount contract

specified, she was under no obligation. Dietrich walked off the set after 28 days of shooting, which cost Paramount $900,000. This version of HOTEL IMPERIAL was scrapped. Then the studio decided to make the film once more, this time with Margaret Sullavan. Hathaway thought she would be perfect

because "she didn't care how ugly she looked." But Sullavan was capricious. She and supporting actor Stuart Erwin took to tussling off camera. She squirted him with a water gun, and he tackled her and both crashed to the floor, Sullavan screaming with pain. She had broken her arm, and it would be

in a cast for months. When studio bosses insisted she play the role in a sling, director Hathaway threw up his hands and then he quit, as had Dietrich. Dietrich then came back to the studio with her faithful director von Sternberg in tow; she said she was ready to resume doing the film, but

Hathaway had to go. Only the great Josef von Sternberg could direct her in HOTEL IMPERIAL or whatever the studio decided to call the film. Paramount executives told her no, they would not let her dictate such terms. Miranda was brought into the project two years later. She was Italy's reigning sex

star--reputedly Mussolini's mistress, or one of them--the dictator having personally selected the slinky, husky-voiced blonde to star in his super spectacular bomb, SCIPIO AFRICANUS. Her English was atrocious, and she had to speak her part phonetically, which made Miranda sound like a mechanical

wind-up doll. Milland has a puppet role, one that almost ended his career after he was ordered by Florey to lead a wild cavalry charge and was thrown from his horse, landing head-first on a pile of bricks and suffering a concussion.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This truly was a jinxed film. Based on a celebrated Hungarian play by Lajos Biro and made as a silent in 1927 with Pola Negri, it was revived as a talkie twice during the 1930s and was finally completed with Italian star Miranda (who would make only two ot… (more)

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