[box cover]

Grand Hotel

Winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1932, Grand Hotel is a delightful, anecdotal Hollywood extravagance — five huge stars and numerous recognizable second-string actors all coming together in a hotel and interacting. Think of it as an early, much better version of "The Love Boat" (or, more specifically, Aaron Spelling's land-locked "Hotel") with actors you actually care about watching. Over the course of two days in a Berlin hotel, we peek in the residents, in an atmosphere described by hotel physician Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) thusly: "What do you do in the Grand Hotel? Eat. Sleep. Loaf around. Flirt a little. Dance a little. A hundred doors leading to one hall, and no one knows anything about the person next to them. And when you leave, someone occupies your room, lies in your bed, and that's the end." We meet Baron von Geigern (John Barrymore), down-on-his-luck royalty who now steals jewels from his high society peers; Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), a lowly stenographer willing to do absolutely anything to get ahead in life; her skeezy boss Preysing (Wallace Beery) and his beleaguered employee Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore), who only has a short time to live and intends to spend his last days in high style; and burnt-out ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), who famously claims "I vant to be alone." It's a glossy soap opera of a film, notable on its release because it was the first time a cast of top stars was assembled in such a way, and marked by Garbo's sparkling performance. Other stars fare less well — given the more naturalistic style of acting to which modern audiences have become accustomed, a few the actors (Crawford and Lionel Barrymore in particular) occasionally come off as overly broad. But overall, Grand Hotel is an entertaining look back at a time when Hollywood movies were big, dazzling confections and when movie stars were truly bigger than life. Warner's DVD release offers a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from an outstanding source-print, making the 70-plus-year-old film look darn good. Portions of the film are deliberately soft (the old vaseline-on-the-lens trick to make the leading ladies look more luminous) and some portions of the source are pretty ragged. But overall the amount of specks and scratches is minimal, and this is the best Grand Hotel has looked in a long time. The monaural soundtrack is equal to the video, with ambient noise and pops kept to a minimum, and both dialogue and music coming through quite clear. Extras include a new "making-of" featurette "Checking out Grand Hotel" (12 min.), a general overview of the production combining interviews, archival footage, and clips from the film; newsreel footage of the film's premiere; a Vitaphone musical short, "Nothing Ever Happens" (19 min.), which is a loving spoof of the film; a one-minute theatrical announcement warning that Grauman's Chinese Theater will only show Grand Hotel for a few short weeks, so make your reservations now! (ticket prices ranged from 50¢ to $1.50 — big money in 1932); and trailers. Snap-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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