The Best Picture Oscar Winner of 1932, Grand Hotel was directed by Edmund Goulding (Dark Victory, The Razor’s Edge) and is based on the novel and play by Vicki Baum and the American stage version by William A. Drake. A soap opera of sorts, Grand Hotel interconnects a series of stories into a singular plot with an all-star ensemble cast aboard for the fun. However, of all the stars in the film, the brightest is Greta Garbo, whose despairing ballerina speaks the line in Grand Hotel with which Garbo herself would forever after be identified: “I want to be alone.” Garbo always insisted that the part she played was merely a character, and that she simply wanted to live her life free from the prying eyes of the press and an adoring public. Nonetheless, her performance was so convincing that identifying her with the character seemed natural.
Set entirely within the most luxurious hotel in Berlin, the basic narrative involves how a group of people, who had never met before, interact and affect each other’s lives. The major characters and their dilemmas are introduced within the first few minutes of the film. Greta Garbo plays Madame Grusinskaya, a Russian ballet dancer. Once a huge star, her career is in a serious decline. Utterly despondent, she’s come to the hotel while performing in town, but she’s on the verge of suicide.
Playing opposite Garbo, is John Barrymore, referred to as “the Great Profile” for obvious reasons if you’ve ever seen him in the prime of his career. He portrays Baron Felix von Geigern, an impoverished nobleman and gambler, desperate to pay off his debts. To do so, the Baron has entered into a deal with some gangsters to steal Grusinskaya’s pearls, but he ends up falling in love with her instead. The Baron’s unflinching love and support allows Grusinskaya to rediscover her talent and reclaim her life. The acting of both stars is superb. However, when compared to today’s standards, some may find their style a bit “showy” in terms of vocal mannerisms and hand gestures. Nonetheless, Greta Garbo and John Barrymore are fun to watch together.
Next, we have Otto Kringelein, played by John Barrymore’s older brother, Lionel. A bookkeeper whose been told he doesn’t have long to live, Otto has decided to spend all his money living it up at the hotel. Kringelein works for Preysing, played by Wallace Berry, the head of a large industrial concern, who just happens to be staying at the same hotel. Preysing is there to complete a merger with another company, which must happen if his interests are to survive. Lionel Barrymore’s Kringelein is a soft spoken, kind hearted man, while Preysing is a loud brute. The character was a real change of pace for Berry who usually played friendly guys such as “The Champ.” Berry initially turned down the part, fearing the character had no redeemable qualities. He was persuaded to take the role when MGM told him that his character would be the only major player with a German accent. While his accent isn’t the best, his performance certainly stands out.
There’s Miss Flaemmchen, played by a young Joan Crawford, a stenographer for Preysing who really is a gold digger prepared to do whatever it takes to live the good life. She has agreed to accompany the married Preysing to England as his “secretary.” On the periphery of things are the hotel porter, Senf, played by Jean Hersholt, whose wife is expecting a baby at any moment; and the mysterious Dr. Otternschlag, played by Lewis Stone, a physician disfigured in the Great War, who walks around the hotel as if he is waiting for something or someone, but that’s not clear.
The interlocking stories never cease to be fascinating. The art deco set designs by the legendary Cecil Beaton are simply breathtaking. The huge circular lobby with its open atrium to the top floor, the lobbies on each level overlooking the central space, reminds us that in the end, it’s not love that makes the world go round but money.
Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, WB has done a solid job on this black & white transfer. While the image shows a slight blur and fade, it’s likely inherent to the source. Otherwise, there are no real noticeable blemishes. This transfer is by no means reference quality stuff, but it’s wonderful given the films age.
Grand Hotel‘s mono audio track, presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0, has an ever present slight hiss. Three is also a limited frequency and dynamic range. Thankfully, dialogue is always intelligible. What issues there are, we would expect on a soundtrack of this vintage.
English SDH, French, Spanish, German SDH, Italian SDH and Korean subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- Audio Commentary with Jeffrey Vance and Mark A. Viera: Vance is a film historian and former archivist for MGM, where Grand Hotel was produced. Vieira is a writer, photographer and historian whose books include a biography of Irving Thalberg. This track is full of information regarding the film. They give great details on the movies production, its stars and so forth. Both men delve into reshoots, edits, script changes and more. Fans of the film will definitely want to give this track a listen.
- Checking Out: Grand Hotel: (SD, 12:20) Most of the information here can be heard in the commentary, but this piece offers some nice visuals.
- Hollywood Premiere of Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Grand Hotel (SD, 9:24) Newsreel footage from the film’s opening at Graumann’s Chinese Theatre.
- Nothing Ever Happens (SD, 18:50) A Grand Hotel parody released in 1933.
- Just a Word of Warning Theater Announcement (SD, 1:16) Catch it now, or you’ll miss your chance!
- Trailer: (SD, 2:27) Grand Hotel.
- Trailer (SD, 2:42) Weekend at the Waldorf.
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