While reading Arthur Hailey’s novel “Hotel” (a beach book version of “Grand Hotel”), one gets a similar sensation to that of working on a disappointing jigsaw puzzle: at certain moments in working through it it appears to have far more pieces than are useful, and the end results hardly seems worth the effort.
If many of the book’s flaws are smoothed over in Richard Quine’s film version, there remains a sufficiency of preposterous coincidence and cliche to both satisfy admirers of the book and irritate enthusiasts of good cinema. Relating a few fateful days in the possible closure of the fictitious but stately St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans, the myriad of characters of the novel, many of whom were peripheral at best, have been sensibly reduced in number, but in the pruning process there are often connective elements shorn which eliminate any fluidity in the resulting jerky rhythms of the multiple intersections of plotting.
The novel’s primary narrative revolves about whether or not the hotel remains in the hands of its owner Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas), a man who believes in the old-fashioned values of the hospitality trade, including segregation; a policy opportune for the film to stretch for the brass ring of social consciousness while simultaneously devaluing the issue by changing the circumstances of the book from one of honest racial offense to one of calculated fabrication; presumably devaluing the seriousness of the subject for those all-important segregated Southern theater markets. Trent’s competitor and chief prospect for taking over the St. Gregory is Curtis O’Keefe (Kevin McCarthy), a hotel franchise magnate whose vision is a world of entirely mechanized hospitality money machines.
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