Rooms With A View
Grand Hotel director Mr Edmund Goulding (leaning on camera) filming Messrs Lionel Barrymore and John Barrymore, and Ms Joan Crawford on set, 1932 Rex Features
Ten unforgettable movies based around hotels. Raid the minibar and settle in.
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, which arrived in tandem with the Great Depression, the starving masses flocked to movies depicting the super-rich and their out-of-reach adventures in expensive restaurants, swanky nightclubs and fancy hotels. Ever since, a hotel has been the screenwriter’s handiest tool: a place where the private and public worlds intersect; a venue for murders and assignations; a temporary pond for a fish out of water.
It’s where a $100-an-hour hooker can take up residence and become a pretty woman; an awkward graduate can stumble into a life-changing affair; where a secret agent can bed his conquests and plan his next move. It can be a mirror for personal nightmares, but also the stage for an elaborate reinvention. Are you ready? Then let’s check in.
Lost in Translation (2003)
Mr Bill Murray and Ms Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, 2003 Focus Features/ Kobal Collection
As the daughter of another famous director, Ms Sofia Coppola spent much of her childhood in fancy hotels. The lonely glamour of a rented room permeates both Somewhere – her portrait of a joyless Hollywood star living in the Chateau Marmont in LA – and Lost in Translation, her much-loved romantic drama set in Tokyo. Mr Bill Murray is a famous actor visiting the capital to shoot an ad for Suntory whisky. The hotel caters for his every need – including an aggressive escort who demands he “lip her stocking” – which only feeds his ennui. In the bar he meets the neglected wife of a photographer (Ms Scarlett Johansson), and their brief, intense friendship offers both of them a bittersweet glimpse of the way life could be.
The Cocoanuts (1929)
Messrs Zeppo, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx in The Cocoanuts, 1929 Paramount/ Kobal Collection
Mr Groucho Marx: “Heyyy! Do you know that suitcase is empty?” Mr Chico Marx: “That’s all right. We fill it up before we leave.” The Marx Brothers’ feature film debut is a loosely plotted farce set at stately Florida resort, the Hotel de Cocoanut. Con man/ proprietor Mr Hammer (Groucho) cynically romances a wealthy dowager guest (Ms Margaret Dumont) while two crooks plot to steal her necklace. Two more thieves, Chico and Harpo, arrive on the scene and cause mayhem for everybody, when they’re not giving showcase performances on the harp and piano. The bellhops, naturally, are a troupe of dancing girls: when hitting the bell makes one appear, Harpo rings it again – and again and again.
Barton Fink (1991)
Mr John Turturro in Barton Fink, 1991 Allstar Picture Library
When a lauded Broadway playwright is lured to Hollywood, he might reasonably expect sunshine and splendour. But Barton Fink’s (Mr John Turturro’s) Faustian deal with a studio lands him in the Hotel Earle, a sepulchral flophouse in which the sticky wallpaper and oppressive atmosphere reflect his gnawing self-doubt. Surreal misadventures ensue with a nutjob studio boss (“We’re going to put you on a Wallace Beary wrestling picture”), an alcoholic screenwriter and his alluring assistant. In what is Mr Joel and Mr Ethan Coen’s hate letter to Tinseltown, the hotel plays the role of a blocked writer’s purgatory – where a serial killer lurks in the next room, and Mr Steve Buscemi is your bellhop.
Grand Hotel (1932)
Ms Greta Garbo in The Grand Hotel, 1932 Rex Features
The melodrama that gave Ms Greta Garbo her catchphrase – “I want to be alone” – cast the Swedish star as a tempestuous Russian ballerina who is talked out of a hotel-room suicide by the gentleman intruder who’s trying to rob her jewels (Mr John Barrymore). They’re just two of the guests at Berlin’s Grand Hotel, where a permanent resident disingenuously assures viewers, “Nothing ever happens”. In another room, the young Ms Joan Crawford is a stenographer and aspiring actress who’s willing to do more than just type for her wealthy industrialist client (Mr Wallace Beery. Yup, the guy gets around). Still thrillingly entertaining more than 80 years later, Grand Hotel is the prototype for multi-plot movies.
Four Rooms (1995)
Ms Jennifer Beals whispers into the ear of Tim Roth in Four Rooms, 1995 Photo Miramax/ Getty Images
Loosely adapting stories by Mr Roald Dahl, Four Rooms brings together four leading indie filmmakers of the 1990s (Ms Allison Anders and Messrs Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino) to each direct a segment of an anthology set in a Los Angeles hotel on New Year’s Eve. Mr Tim Roth plays the linking character, bellboy Ted, whose first day on the job brings encounters with witches, a couple’s violent sex game, out-of-control kids, and (in Mr Tarantino’s segment) a dangerous bet. The film may irritate in places as it strains for humour, but it makes its point – hotel staff see the damnedest stuff.
The Night Porter (1974)
Ms Charlotte Rampling in a scene from The Night Porter, 1974 Kobal Collection
You never know who you’ll bump into in a hotel lobby – friend, celebrity, sadomasochistic Nazi ex-lover. Ms Liliana Cavani’s controversial drama is set in Vienna in 1957, where a former SS officer working as a hotel porter (Mr Dirk Bogarde) is reunited with the girl he brutalised 15 years earlier in a concentration camp (Ms Charlotte Rampling). Now the wife of an American conductor, she finds herself drawn back into his dark, erotic world. In a film often accused of fetishising Nazism – Ms Rampling has a notorious scene singing bare-breasted in German officer garb – the guilty title character, ashamed of being seen in the daylight, has created his own prison in the twilight world of the hotel’s night shift.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Messrs Tony Revolori and Ralph Fiennes on the set of The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014 Allstar Picture Library
Mr Wes Anderson’s fizziest film to date is a rambunctious caper set in and around a ritzy mountaintop establishment in Central Europe between WWI and WWII. Copiously perfumed concierge Monsieur Gustave (Mr Ralph Fiennes) specialises in providing elderly female guests with what might be termed as horizontal room service, and gets into a scrape when accused of the murder of one of them. The film is packed with stars, none more eye-catching than the hotel itself, designed after lavish 19th-century lodgings such as the Bristol Palace in Karlovy Vary. The perennially playful director uses an obviously handmade model to represent the hotel’s wedding cake-like exterior.
A Room with a View (1985)
Ms Helena Bonham Carter and Mr Julian Sands in A Room With a View, 1985 Kobal Collection
“Don’t you agree that, on one’s first visit to Florence, one must have a room with a view?” Against the rules of Edwardian propriety, the dewy Lucy Honeychurch (Ms Helena Bonham Carter) and her prim cousin agree to swap rooms at their pensione with handsome George Emerson (Mr Julian Sands) and his father, sparking an attraction between George and Lucy that will send her panicking into the arms of the more prissily respectable Cecil (Mr Daniel Day-Lewis). This hilarious adaptation of Mr EM Forster’s novel strikes a blow against sexual repression while delivering one of costume drama’s most ravishing entertainments.
The Shining (1980)
Master Danny Lloyd in The Shining, 1980 Photoshot/ Collection Christophel
Mr Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece evokes a haunted ski lodge so indelibly that to this day no one can enter a retro-looking large hotel without nervously saying “Redrum, redrum...” Based on Mr Stephen King’s novel, it’s about a writer (Mr Jack Nicholson) who agrees to look after a remote chalet over the winter, only to be driven to axe-wielding mania by the hotel’s resident ghosts. Mr Kubrick had the hotel set built to scale at Elstree Studios, in Hertfordshire, UK, including the corridors endlessly traversed by psychic child Danny (Master Danny Lloyd) on his tricycle, an imposing 1920s ballroom, the snow-drenched outdoor maze, and the fateful Room 237. But that lift that opens to disgorge a tidal wave of blood? They used a model miniature.
A film still from Psycho, 1960 Paramount/ Kobal Collection
“Mother isn’t quite herself today,” explains Norman Bates (Mr Anthony Perkins). No, she’s not. A “Bates Motel” is one you keep driving past because it looks run-down and scary, a point illustrated in Psycho when on-the-lam Marion Crane (Ms Janet Leigh) rents a room there, takes a shower and gets surprised by something more disturbing than weak water pressure. Sir Alfred Hitchcock broke all kinds of taboos with his 1960 shocker, killing off his lead character halfway through, delving into sexual psychosis, and pioneering editing techniques utilised by horror film-makers to this day. Ironically, Paramount were more worried about Hitch showing a toilet on screen.