“Grand Hotel…always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”
- Dr. Otternschlag
Don’t trust the doctor or his statement. In fact, almost everything that can happen does happen in Grand Hotel, the 1932 classic the Academy Award-winner for that year’s Best Picture. As MGM promised at the time, the movie features a cavalcade of the era’s biggest and brightest stars, all of them appearing in a marvelously intelligent and complex melodrama that, for better and for worse, set the template four countless imitators that would follow over the subsequent decades.
John Barrymore is Baron Felix von Geigern, a rich nobleman whose finances are not what they used to be. His brother Lionel Barrymore is Otto Kringelein, a bookkeeper with only a short time left to live. Greta Garbo is Russian dancer Grusinskaya, a woman with a mystery hovering around her who openly admits, “I want to be alone.” Wallace Beery is Preysing, an unscrupulous industrialist who will go to any means to secure a potential business deal. Joan Crawford is Flaemmchen, a gorgeous secretary Preysing hires to help him fulfill his dastardly goals. Jean Hersholt is Senf, a porter at Grand Hotel desperate to hear information of his pregnant wife on the verge of giving birth to the pair’s child. And Lewis Stone is the already mentioned Dr. Otternschlag, a drunken physician who isn’t near as good an observer of human nature that he thinks he is.
All of their stories mix, mingle and collide, the movie having a tragic, somewhat winsome aura that belies the energetic pacing, bursts of comedy and romantic entanglements that highlight the package. Director Edmund Goulding (Dark Victory) weaves all of these plots and subplots together with precision and flair, allowing the inherent emotional majesty of the piece to speak for itself without a lot of needless flourish and embellishment on his part.
You look at the movie and it’s hard not to immediately realize that relatively recent (and diverse) films like the original The Poseidon Adventure, M*A*S*H, Traffic, Babel or Crash, maybe even The Avengers, would maybe never have existed without this star-studded melodrama to pick from as a template. Grand Hotel has inspired countless filmmakers, a variety of remakes (whether in the cinema, on the stage or on the television screen) and a smattering of imitators, while also inspiring filmmakers from across the generational spectrum in the process. At over eight decades in age, the movie shockingly has lost little of its edge or power, and it’s easy to see why as far as Best Picture winners are concerned this is one of the few never to have engendered a backlash of one sort or another.
I’ve never read Vicki Baum’s original novel which was the inspiration for this adaptation, and quite honestly I can’t say I’ve never felt the need to. There’s something about Grand Hotel as it is, as it exists free from its source material and away from all of the imitators and remakes its spawned, that I find refreshingly authentic and natural no matter how many time I watch it. This is a glorious movie, one’s whose sprawling story never overwhelms the innate emotional honesty of the characters who live within it. A classic in all the ways that count, lovers of a great cinema owe it to themselves to give this timeless marvel a look.
Grand Hotel is presented on a single-layer 25GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.37:1/1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono soundtrack along with a plethora of additional audio options and features optional English SDH, French, Spanish, German SDH, Italian SDH and Korean subtitles.
Extras here include:
· Commentary with Jeffrey Vance and Mark A. Vieira – The two film historians and archivists dig into every aspect of Grand Hotel, their commentary track as fascinating as it is informative. Almost, but not quite, as entertaining as the movie itself.
· Checking Out: Grand Hotel (12:20) – Nice, if not particularly inspired, retrospective featurette on the making of Grand Hotel and its importance as far as cinematic history is concerned.
· Hollywood Premiere of Metro Goldwyn Mayer's Grand Hotel (9:24) – Vintage newsreel footage of the film’s Graumann's Chinese Theatre premier.
· Nothing Ever Happens (18:50) – Amusing musical parody of Grand Hotel released to theatres in 1933.
· “Just a Word of Warning” Theater Announcement (1:16) – Vintage theatre announcement that must be seen to be believed. Fun.
· Theatrical Trailers
i. Grand Hotel (2:27)
ii. Week-End at the Waldorf (2:42)
Grand Hotel is a bona fide classic for a reason, and I couldn’t recommend the watching of it with any more passion. Warner’s Blu-ray presentation is a good one (if, it must be admitted thanks to some audio deficiencies, not quite a great one), and considering the rather low price point fans should definitely consider picking this disc up for their personal collections.