I hadn't seen Hotel since it opened in theaters in 1967 and I was a tender lad of 9 years-old. I thought it was talky and somewhat boring at the time, but upon viewing the DVD release from Warner Archives, I have to say that I relished every minute of it. This is do in no small part to the fact that the film is packed with great actors that audiences used to take for granted, but whose presence is now sorely missed. Hotel follows the pattern of those all-star dramas that were so popular in the 60s and 70s. It traces the relationships between a disparate group of glamorous types who intermingle over the course of a few days at the elegant St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans. (Envision The V.I.P.S - with room service.) Melvyn Douglas (who must have excelled at playing doddering old men when he was still in grade school) is the proud owner of the once great hotel that will be forced into foreclosure unless he can find either an investor or a buyer. Enter Kevin McCarthy as a deceitful real estate magnate who wants to con the old man into making a deal to sell him the property so he can turn its elegant aspects into a crass commercial joint. Mediating all of this Douglas' right hand man, hotel manager Rod Taylor, who has to solve the financial crisis, handle McCarthy's seductive mistress (Catherine Spaak) who he is having an affair with, cope with a civil rights scandal when a black couple are denied a room, and try to locate a brazen cat burglar (Karl Malden) who is robbing rooms- while their occupants are asleep. And you thought your life was busy.
This Australian reissue poster not only plays up the presence of leading Aussie actor Rod Taylor but also attempts to tie the film into the craze for star-packed disaster movies.
The film is based on the novel by Arthur Hailey, who excelled in soap opera scenarios with a tinge of excitement that made for successful movies. (i.e Airport) The only thrill here (aside from Spaak seducing Taylor) is an out-of-control elevator that adds a dash of suspense to the tale. However, the main attribute is the glamorous cast. Everyone looks like a million dollars, and the women sashay around in Edith Head gowns while men dress to the nines just to belly up to the hotel bar. The film evokes an era in which men tried to seduce women by putting jazz records on a turntable, using Sinatra album covers as impromptu coasters. It was an era in which hot sex sessions were inevitably followed by cigarettes in bed. The movie boasts other notable actors in prominent roles: Michael Rennie and Merle Oberon as European nobility trying to cover up a ghastly crime, Karl Malden as the charismatic thief and Richard Conte as a corrupt house dick. The story plays out under the very competent direction of Richard Quine and is set to an infectuous jazz score by Johnny Keating. Most of the hotel sequences were shot on a lush studio set but Quine does take the action outside periodically to capitalize on the impressive New Orleans locations.
What I found most enjoyable about the film is the performance of Rod Taylor, whose self-imposed retirement robbed the screen of one of its most impressive and charismatic leading men. (Cheap plug: read Steve Saragossi's Whatever Happened to Rod Taylor? in Cinema Retro issue #19). Taylor is the glue that holds the fragmented story together and he evokes the qualities of what strong leading men used to be about.
There's plenty to enjoy throughout the movie, so make a reservation at this Hotel.