Thursday, December 25, 2014

Arthur Hailey's "Hotel"

I always think of Hotel as a follow-up to Arthur Hailey's Airport--when, in reality, the former film came out first. Made in 1967, it was based on Hailey's novel of the same title. Of course, the movie's structure--different stories set in a grand hotel--harkens back to...well...Grand Hotel (1932). Still, it's a serviceable plot device; the key is to wrap the framing story around interesting ones involving the guests. In that aspect, one could call Hotel a reasonable success.

The central story revolves arond the future of the St. Gregory, a posh but aging and debt-ridden hotel in New Orleans. Its elderly owner, Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas), has a standing offer from developers who want the real estate, but not the hotel. The other option is to sell to hotel magnate Curtis O'Keefe (Kevin McCarthy), who wants to transform the St. Gregory from an upscale hotel into a very commercial one. Neither choice appeals to Trent, so his general manager Peter McDermott (Rod Taylor) tries to put together his own deal.

Merle Oberon as the Duchess.
Meanwhile, a visiting British dignitary (Michael Rennie) and his wife (Merle Oberon) find themselves in a quandry when he accidentally kills a child while driving drunk and flees the scene. While he struggles with his conscience, his wife tries to strike a bargain with the blackmailing house detective (Richard Conte). Other hotel guests fall prey to a clever thief (Karl Malden), who steals room keys and then robs the occupants while they sleep. Finally, Peter can't help but notice O'Keefe's lovely companion (Catherine Spaak) and she apparently has eyes for him.

Screenwriter Wendell Mayes (Anatomy of a Murder, Von Ryan's Express) simplifies and downsizes Hailey's novel. In the book, Peter has a checkered past and is interested in Trent's secretary (who's missing from the movie). Mayes jettisons a major subplot involving an attempted rape, adds the romance between Peter and O'Keefe's girlfriend, and alters the climax. Undoubtedly, major alterations were required to keep the running time at two hours. Still, too much time is spent on Malden's key thief, whose every appearance is accompanied by a playful jazz theme that becomes unbearable.

Rod Taylor as the hotel's manager.
Just as the unflappable, efficient McDermott keeps the St. Gregory operating smoothy, Rod Taylor keeps Hotel moving along from subplot to subplot. A reliable leading man, Taylor got pigeon-holed as a likable hero, which sadly limited his big screen appearances after the 1960s. Lame pictures like Trader Horn didn't help either. Still, he shifted his focus to television in the 1970s, where he thrived for the next two decades in series such as Bearcats! and Falcon Crest.

French actress Catherine Spaak.
While it's entertaining to see classic-era stars such as Ms. Oberon, Conte, and Douglas, they have relatively little screen time. In contrast, too much time is devoted to Kevin McCarthy's one-note "villain" and Catherine Spaak's tedious love interest for Taylor. To the latter's defense, the French beauty is saddled with the film's worst dialogue. When Taylor discovers her wearing only her slip in his apartment, she tells him seductively: "Take off your jacket. You interest me."

Coincidentally, Spaak and Karl Malden appeared in another movie together six years later: Dario Argento's suspense film Cat O'Nine Tails. As pointed out in other sources, there's another bit of trivia involving Malden. After his thief discovers a stolen wallet only contains a few dollars, he blames his bad luck on the growing popularity of credit cards. Years later, Malden would make a famous series of commercials for American Express, advising consumers not to leave home without their credit card.

Eighteen years after the release of Hotel, Aaron Spelling--already flourishing with the similar series The Love Boat and Fantasy Island--produced a TV series based on Hailey's novel. James Brolin played the manager of the St. Gregory, which was now located in San Francisco. Other series regulars during the show's five-year run included Connie Selleca, Shari Belafonte, and Anne Baxter.

3 comments:

  1. I had recorded Hotel just recently and watched it Tuesday! You are right on the money about it. Karl Malden was a lot of fun as a light-footed, smiling thief, but I agree he was used way too much (loved that you describe his music as unbearable)! WAY too much time spent with Spaak and Rod Taylor -- WAY too little time with the classic-era actors. I never read the book, but your description sounds like it would have been a lot more interesting than what ended up on screen. Great review, Rick....

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  2. Excellent take on one of my favorite 60s films, which, come to think of it, would make great viewing tonight. You are right, too much Karl and not enough sleazy Richard Conte, who always brought a lot to the party in any film he was in.

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  3. Yes, Richard Conte could have been used better. The whole plot line with him, Merle Oberon, and Michael Rennie could have been expanded to take better advantage of three good actors.

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