With a reservation for over two hours and the very fate of the title character itself on the line, Hotel is surely that sweeping epic of what happens at check in, check out and all points in between! And with the historic St. Gregory located in the heart of New Orleans, all manner of steamy, controversial, and mysterious goings on are surely happening within its elegant halls and suites!
Your comment card though will likely note that while the hotel and its staff looked and acted professional (how could it not with the handsome movie star Rod Taylor of The Birds and The Time Machine in charge?), your stay at the ritzy inn was marked mostly by boredom in between bouts of being creeped out by the maniacal smile that hotel thief Karl Malden constantly wore while standing around staring at sleeping people as he stole their money.
From a novel by Airport author Arthur Hailey, Hotel seems like the perfect set up for a landlocked The Love Boat with various superstars checking in to engage in some dramatic story line or other before having it resolved at the conclusion of the movie. And that’s likely what happened 15 or so years later when the Hotel TV series came on the air. (I watched St. Elsewhere instead, so I’ll just have to take the word of all you Connie Selleca fans out there.)
Surprisingly then, especially considering the extended-stay running time, this Hotel‘s stories and drama are about as thin as a no tell motel’s bedsheets. The overarching story is that the St. Gregory is in danger of closing unless it can find a buyer. There is a big time hotel magnate, O’Keefe (Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘ Kevin McCarthy), staying there who is trying to get the St. Gregory’s owner to sell, but general manager Peter McDermott (Taylor) is opposed because of O’Keefe’s desire to modernize it with some cockamamie scheme to put conveyor belts everywhere. (Apparently in 1967 the conveyor belt was like the mid 20th century version of modern hotel amenities like HDTV, wifi and USB chargers all rolled into one.)
While O’Keefe proves himself to be a sleazy operator with such schemes as having his girlfriend sex up McDermott (and boy did that backfire! Do not send your sexy French girlfriend to lay with the matinee idol at this swanky French quarter apartment and think she’s going to do anything but dump your old, praying ass as soon as she puts on her dress and sashays back to the hotel!) and staging a civil rights violation at the hotel while McDermott was enjoying his French lunch, he does prove prophetic on the St. Gregory’s need to upgrade its facilities when the big climatic elevator crash happens near the end of the film!
But while you might expect that the business machinations to find financing for the hotel without selling out to O’Keffe would be tedious (you never want to have Rod Taylor earnestly speaking of trusts and union pensions), the myriad personal stories of the hotel’s guests easily make up for it, right? Sure, if by myriad, you mean exactly one. As in one dull story involving three people you don’t care about other than identifying them from the other, better movies you’ve seen them in. (We don’t count the Karl Malden thief story because it isn’t really a story, so much as constantly failing comic relief.)
Merle Oberon (Wuthering Heights) and Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still) play a royal couple who are involved in a hit and run that killed a child. Merle is the cold calculating power hungry dame who is willing to do whatever it takes to get her wimpy guilt-ridden husband out of trouble. And whatever it takes turns out to be hiring the slimy house detective (The Big Combo‘s Richard Conte) to drive the damaged vehicle out of the city before the law catches up with them. Except that the law catches up with them before he can drive it out of the city! Great plan!
And that’s all there is to this paean to the old school, pre-hotel-chain hospitality business that was apparently fading away in the late 1960s. The elevator disaster (the sole bit of drama in the entire movie) predictably resolves the only non-selling-the-hotel story, while the fate of the hotel just sort of peters out, almost like everyone suddenly realized near the end of the movie that there really wasn’t much in the way of a movie in the story after all.
The funny thing is that though O’Keefe passes for the villain in the movie, he turns out to be right about almost everything in the end. The St. Gregory is old and outdated and needs to be modernized. One elevator crash fatality later and you can see his point. His silly babble about conveyor belts contained a prediction that described what we now know as automatic check out. His scheme to ply McDermott with a sexy French broad to sway him to his side revealed his sexy French broad as being simply with O’Keefe for his money and allowed him to be free of her lying. Heck, he even inadvertently desegregated the St. Gregory with his botched civil rights violation plot!
Everyone else comes off looking like a dope. Except of course Rod Taylor. After all, he was the cool stud smoking and drinking and rogering the French gal all while still on the job! No wonder he was against selling!