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Edmund Goulding
Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone
Writing Credits:
Vicki Baum (play, "Menschen im Hotel"), William A. Drake (play, American version)

In this great screen drama, the glitz and glitter of Berlin's opulent Grand Hotel comes alive with its star-studded guests and employees: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 2/3/2004

• “Checking Out Grand Hotel” Documentary
• Premiere Newsreel
• “Just a Word of Warning” Theatre Announcement
• Vitaphone Musical Short “Nothing Ever Happens”
• Trailers

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Grand Hotel (1932)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 23, 2004)

Through the end of 2003, only four of the Oscar Best Picture winners from the Thirties appeared on DVD. The folks at Warner Bros. put a big dent in the absentees on February 3, 2004, when they put out three of the missing titles.

The oldest of that trio comes from 1932’s Grand Hotel. Set in the best and most expensive spot in Berlin, Hotel quickly introduces us to a large roster of characters. Initially we hear these stories via phone calls. Baron von Geigern (John Barrymore) runs low on funds and contrives some plot to regain money. General Director Preysing (Wallace Beery) feels dependent on a big merger that will allow his business to sink or swim. With only a short time to live, Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) wants to go out with a bang and plans an elaborate stay at the hotel. Senf the porter (Jean Hersholt) worries about his pregnant wife.

A few other characters emerge after this rapid introduction. Doctor Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) hangs out in lobby and waits for some news to come. The famous dancer Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) holes up in her room; she has something on her mind and feels tired and doesn’t want to perform. A stenographer named Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) comes to work for Preysing on his merger.

The film follows their interlocking lives, particularly as they connect to the Baron. He makes friends with Kringelein and hits on Flaemmchen, who quickly becomes smitten. We soon learn that the Baron plans to steal a string of pearls when the depressed Grusinskaya goes to perform. When she catches him, he declares his love for her, and this launches a love triangle with Flaemmchen. In the meantime, Preysing’s merger runs into snags and causes him consternation.

Despite those inconsistencies, Hotel meshes together pretty well. No, it’s not much more than broad soap opera, but it’s good soap opera. The film embraces melodrama without hesitation and seems more entertaining than it might be if it beat around the bush.

Part of that sense comes from the acting style of the time. The performances are all so wide and florid that they seem somewhat off-putting at first. However, once one gets accustomed to the style, the work becomes significantly more acceptable and intriguing.

A lot of Hotel’s success stems from its tight editing and its visual style. The film moves smoothly and briskly between the various elements and allows us to connect cleanly to the different pieces. It also demonstrates a rather inventive pictorial style. We get some grand shots of the setting and also an interesting sense of choreography that sometimes places the participants in unusually close proximity. These tight close-ups heighten the drama.

Again, Grand Hotel comes as nothing more than a soap opera. Nonetheless, it piques one’s interest and remains consistently intriguing. It balances different stories and characters well and provides a fairly entertaining drama.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-

Grand Hotel appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though a mix of concerns appeared, given the flick’s age, Hotel looked pretty good.

Sharpness created some of the more frequent distractions. Parts of the movie seemed rather soft, though more than a handful of these appeared intentionally hazy; it looked like the director wanted to use soft focus on the leading ladies. Nonetheless, a number of shots came across as ill defined for less obvious reasons. Still, much of the film was adequately detailed, and the softness wasn’t terribly pervasive.

I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and only some light edge enhancement appeared. Despite the flick’s advanced age, source concerns looked surprisingly minor. A fair amount of grain showed up throughout the movie, but various defects didn’t interfere frequently. Occasional examples of specks, grit, marks, streaks, and other issues occurred, but the transfer kept them to a general minimum and looked significantly cleaner than I expected from a 1932 flick.

Black levels mostly seemed dark and dense, and contrast appeared solid in general. The movie usually showed a nicely silver appearance, though it turned a bit gray at times. Low-light shots were pretty well-defined, and actually offered some of the film’s more attractive moments. For example, when we first meet Grusinskaya in the dark, the image was quite clear and firm. Ultimately, Grand Hotel was too erratic to earn a very high grade, but I still felt it looked good for its era.

Similar thoughts greeted the monaural soundtrack of Grand Hotel, as the audio seemed pretty solid given the flick’s era. Speech demonstrated good clarity and suffered from no signs of edginess. The lines were easily intelligible and relatively natural. Effects played a small role in the proceedings, but they sounded clean and distinctive, without any significant distortion. Music showed up quite frequently throughout the movie but generally stayed in the background. That meant the score rarely showed much power and usually seemed a bit thin and dinky. Still, the score was acceptably clean and bright. Light background noise appeared throughout the film, but these minor pops never became a real distraction. In the end, the audio seemed fine for a movie from 1932.

A few small extras round out Grand Hotel. We start with a featurette called Checking Out Grand Hotel. The 12-minute and 10-second program mixes movie clips, archival materials, narration and interviews with actors Maureen O’Sullivan, key MGM hair designer Sydney Guilaroff, and MGM executive Joseph J. Cohn. We learn about the flick’s origins, casting, heat on the set, and changes made to the final piece. It’s a quick but tight little evaluation of the project.

Next we find a Premiere Newsreel. It lasts nine minutes and 30 seconds and shows the movie’s gala showing in Hollywood. We see those involved with Hotel and other celebrities of the era as they arrive at the theater. It’s an interesting piece of history.

In the same vein, ”Just a Word of Warning” presents a “theatre announcement”. This 68-second clip warns us that Hotel will only play for a few more weeks at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I’d better get there quick!

We also get a Vitaphone musical short entitled Nothing Ever Happens that runs 18 minutes and 40 seconds. It’s a little spoof of Hotel that’s campy but surprisingly amusing. The disc ends with trailers for Hotel as well as 1945’s Week-End at the Waldorf.

One of the earliest Oscar-winners, Grand Hotel holds up surprisingly well after more than 70 years. The melodrama presents an intriguing tale that consistently remains interesting. The DVD offers pretty positive picture and audio for such an old film, and we get a small but decent set of supplements. An entertaining soap opera, Grand Hotel works well and comes with my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4 Stars Number of Votes: 30
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