Grand Hotel (1932)

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Original plot
An all-star cast mills about a posh hotel fretting about love, business and money.

Big thoughts
Joan Crawford’s character orders absinthe in the bar – how awesome is that? Also, keep an eye out for the Triforce from the Legend of Zelda as it makes a cameo appearance on a decorative lamp.

The Random Remake
Felix Baron (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a jet-setting venture capitalist who storms into the lobby of the Spanish-inspired Hotel Belleza in San Francisco. He has several meetings set up with random Internet startups in the area and he loudly proclaims to his assistant that one of these groups better wow him before he moves on to Seattle, Austin, New York, etc. and see more startups.

At the same time, “next big thing” Hollywood actress Greta Grusin (Anne Hathaway) barges into the Belleza lobby to check in before she shoots her next big-budget romantic comedy set in San Fran. She is moody and demanding, telling her handlers to give her the script, send her to room and “I just want to be left alone.”

At the same time, a humble, somewhat disheveled man named Oscar Lein (Ben Foster) gets lost in his check-in process due to the attention paid Felix and Greta. He gets upset, demanding service and saying his money is as good as anyone else’s.

Shortly after, a gruff businessman, Wallace Preysing (David Walliams), comes from his room through the lobby to meet with an incoming set of businessmen. Wallace and his brand-new accountant, Joan Flaemmchen (Emma Stone), are talking nervously about how to negotiate a merger of the companies on an oil pipeline from Alaska down the coast to California. The deal hinges on a number of Wallace’s accounts being more profitable than they are in reality and Wallace is pressing Joan to massage the books.

Over the course of the day at the hotel, all five interact with each other through chance meetings in the lobby, hallways, restaurant, bar. Joan falls for Felix. Felix falls for Greta. Oscar falls for Joan. Wallace begins to prey on Joan.

Wallace’s merger goes through – but only after he lies and Joan reluctantly backs him up. Oscar has cancer and is dying, coming to the Belleza to spend lavishly the money he has miserly saved up his whole life; he wants to be treated like royalty on his way out. Felix is wined and dined and promised lavish adventures from the startup founders, but we learn he’s a con man taking advantage of naïve geeks. He gets closer to Greta to begin a con on her and scan her room for valuables to steal but falls in love with her instead. They make plans to escape from the hotel and live it up in San Francisco that night – which forces Felix into some quick conning as he’s owed money to a local loan shark who’s been scoping him out at the hotel.

Felix arranges a shady card game with some of the startup geeks and cheats so Oscar wins. Meanwhile Greta is undergoing a plan to hide from her handlers and sneak off to the rendezvous point with Felix (we last see her in a diner telling the hostess that she won’t be dining alone; “No I have a guest coming,” she says). Felix then plies Oscar with drinks and is about to take all of Oscar’s money (game winnings and life savings) when Oscar thanks him for showing him attention and a fun time; Felix stops and returns the money. He then sneaks into Wallace’s room to get something valuable to buy time with the loan shark when Wallace (who’s been pushing himself on Joan in the joining room) sees him and shoots him with a gun he travels with. The police take Wallace away for questioning, leaving Oscar and Joan together in the hotel. Oscar confesses to Joan his sickness (he had said something only to Felix and asked Felix to keep it quiet). Joan then promises to show him the time of his life. “This is a hotel. People come and go. Nothing ever happens. Let’s go out and really live,” she says.

The pitch
Hotel Belleza: It’s what happens inside that counts

Next up: It’s a Great Feeling (1949)

A Woman’s Face (1941)

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Original plot
Mommie Dearest becomes Scarface and falls in love with the devil.

Big thoughts
Sleigh chase! Gondola suspense! Grifting! This is like Inception in 1940s Sweden.

The Random Remake
Anna Holm (Elizabeth Banks) is in front of a grand jury that is considering recommending murder charges be filed against her. Anna is only seen from one side of her face as witnesses testify against her. She was a petty criminal blackmailing whomever she could and was generally a surly person to be around – emphasized by the large scar on one side of her face. People routinely ask her why she doesn’t have plastic surgery and she yells back at them.

Anna meets Tristan Barring (Hugh Grant) at the café she owns (taking great pains not to be seen in by the customers). Grant is even more devious than she is, and soon they hook up on grand schemes – identifying marks among the customers to filter down to their accomplices. Anna is drawn to Tristan because he doesn’t seem to care about her scar. Tristan is drawn to Anna because he both sees someone as psychopathic as he is but also someone with a flaw he can exploit. Due to the excitement and attention, Anna finally is persuaded to shed her anxiety over plastic surgery and she uses some of the ill-gotten gains to have her face repaired.

During the interstitial cuts to the grand jury trial’s machinations, the “murder” is constantly referred to with the victim only named as “him.” We learn in the trial that Anna’s scar comes from an attack she suffered as a child from her older, unstable brother. Anna killed her brother to get away from the attack, and kept the scar as penance.

Tristan and Anna’s escapades get larger and more dangerous until Tristan mentions being the heir to an energy company fortune; however his young nephew stands in the way. Tristan twists Anna’s psyche into agreeing to become the young boy’s nanny and bump him off. Yet during the subterfuge, Anna becomes attached to the boy (and his extended family overseeing him) while Tristan becomes more and more enraged. Tristan threatens Anna’s life and she is on the brink of offing the nephew (reliving the pain of her brother’s assault as a child) but instead kills Tristan – confessing to the grand jury that she did so to save the boy (the only time the murder trial is revealed not to be of the boy but of Tristan). The grand jury recommends no charges be filed.

The pitch
About Face: She’s neck deep in trouble

Next up: Grand Hotel (1932)

My Favorite Brunette (1947)

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Original plot
Bob Hope goes full Humphrey Bogart but ends up more like Johnny English.

Big thoughts
It’s amazing how self-aware this movie is, and how Bob Hope is less acting and more playing to the audience.

The Random Remake
Ronnie Jackson (Mike Birbiglia) is one of a long line of police officers – his father, mother, older brothers, etc. were all on the force. Ronnie was supposed to as well, but his constant joking and immature behavior got him kicked out of the academy. Now he works as a baby photographer in one of those department store photo studios. He still harbors visions of being in law enforcement, and his family chides him with being the black sheep, so he signs up with a private detective firm. Showing up looking like he stepped out of a noir movie on the first day – overcoat, hat, shady attitude – Ronnie quickly learns that modern PI-ing isn’t what it looks like. He tails people and gets recognized, then yelled at by both the cops and his employers. A lot of his jobs are trying to catch cheating spouses, and he screws up one case in which someone is visiting her mother (awkward!).

Ronnie’s about to call it quits when Carrie Montay (Rachel McAdams) steps into the PI office looking for help. Her uncle has gone missing, and Ronnie is soon embroiled over his head in a case involving political payoffs, oil speculation, and more. The only things that keep him alive are his naiveté and infatuation with Carrie. Ronnie tracks the uncle down to a mental hospital, where he is being drugged and subdued by a shady business outfit looking to take over his dealings. Ronnie has to imitate a psychotic to get in there! He finally tracks down the perpetrators and tries to wear a wire for evidence but misses the part where they are incredulous a “baby photographer” could have uncovered their scheme. The perpetrators have let Ronnie go on his case all along, not thinking he’s a threat, but now are going to shoot him. Ronnie then deploys one of his homebuilt gadgets he’s developed to get the best snapshots of kids – a surprise camera tied around his neck; the flash blinds the perps and he escapes with Carrie and the recovering uncle to the authorizes, who arrest the shady business people.

The pitch
My Favorite Brunette: Private investigator. Public disaster.

Next up: A Woman’s Face (1941)