In 1932, however, the sum was even greater than its parts, and Grand Hotel was such an event that the New York Times review had as much to do with the chaos of the opening-night crowd as with the film itself. Based on the hit Vicki Baum novel, the film introduced the so-called portmanteau genre (Dinner at Eight was the most famed of the follow-ups) in which the lives and stories of a group of diverse people are brought together by circumstances and emerge changed. It also featured Garbo's most repeated line ("I want to be alone"), and its lavish production makes it a touchstone in MGM and Hollywood history.
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Baby Jane Hudson (played in her older years by a gloriously dilapidated Davis) was a star. As a goldie-locked kindergarten beauty, Baby Jane performed to sold-out audiences in 1917. Sister Blanche, then the plainer of the two, was always reminded of that depressing reality. Standing off-stage left, enviously watching her sister screech through a set of syrupy "I love you daddy" numbers, Blanche could only dream of a future when the audience's eyes and inclinations might shift. And they do. Flashing decades forward with superb audacity, director Robert Aldrich introduces us to a new world, where Blanche is a superstar who, though crippled, is still adored by her fans. Baby Jane is as Baby Jane was destined to be, a pale shadow of her juvenile success.
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