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Hotel Splendide (1932)

British Film Institute

Main image of Hotel Splendide (1932)
35mm, 53 min, black & white
DirectorMichael Powell
Production CompanyFilm Engineering Company
ProducerJerome Jackson
StoryPhilip MacDonald
 Ralph Smart
PhotographyGeoffrey Faithfull
 Arthur Grant

Cast: Jerry Verno (Jerry Mason); Antony Holles ('Mrs Legrange'); Edgar Norfolk (Gentleman Charlie); Philip Morant (Mr Meek); Sybil Grove (Mrs Harkness)

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The new owner of a second-class hotel discovers that the guests include both crooks and police looking for a stolen necklace.

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In Hotel Splendide, Jerry Verno plays a character dear to the filmmakers and audiences of the quota/depression years: an impoverished go-getter trying to improve his station in life.

Before entering films, Michael Powell (like the Verno character) had worked in a boring desk job, and went on to live and work with his father, who owned a hotel, the Voile d'Or at Cap Ferrat, near Monte Carlo.

One can't help but sympathise with Verno's disappointment when he first lays eyes on the Hotel Splendide, and with the filmmakers too. The makers of this 'quota quickie' wanted to make real films, not simply enough celluloid to satisfy the legal requirements of the Quota Act. In this sense the hotel, and Verno's enthusiastic attempts to help revitalise and refurbish it in order to attract as many customers as possible, echo the enthusiasm and ambition of its young director. Powell even appears in a small role as 'Marconi', one of the gang of thieves.

The script is often over complicated, with writer Philip MacDonald taking his characteristic interest in disguises and false identities to bewildering extremes. It can be seen in Powell's Rynox (1931), in which the whole plot depends on a disguise, and reached its zenith in The List of Adrian Messenger (US, d. John Huston, 1963), with all the guest stars unrecognisable under heavy make-up. Practically every character in Splendide is not what they seem (even Verno is seen pretending to be his own boss at the beginning of the film). In addition, an almost camp quality is introduced, with the lead villain, named 'Pussy' Saunders for his trademark cat, spending practically the entire film in drag.

The film has a number of nice visual touches, especially in the last part, which is very atmospherically filmed, with an effective use of high angle shots and low-key lighting. This section also features Gounod's 'Funeral March of the Marionettes', best known today as the theme tune of the American TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Raising the flag (2:37)
2. Pussy steals box (2:42)
3. Follow the cat (2:55)
Complete film (49:51)
Verno, Jerry (1894-1975)
Early Michael Powell