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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Grand Hotel

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#1 of 11 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted January 25 2004 - 11:00 AM

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Grand Hotel

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1932
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 112 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Academy
Audio: DD Mono
Color/B&W: B&W
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.98
Package: Snap Case

The Feature:
On February 3rd, Warner Bros. will release seven Academy Award winning films. Grand Hotel was nominated for only one Academy Award; Best Picture for which it won and it included a pretty impressive resumé starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford and Wallace Beery. It’s also interesting to note that it was the only film to ever be nominated and win Best Picture with no other nominations in any other category. Although Beery wasn’t nominated for any awards for Grand Hotel, that same year, he was nominated for his role in The Champ which resulted in a tie with Fredric March and his role in Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde in which they both won for Best Actor In A Leading Role. Quite often M-G-M boasted that at the time “they had more stars than the heavens" and in this case, they used them.

Set in Berlin, the Grand Hotel is the most luxurious hotel in the city and home to a number of interesting residents, some who are permanent and some who are rather transient in nature. In the words of the usually intoxicated Dr. Otternschlag (played by Lewis Stone) "People come, people go. Nothing ever happens”. However, what we do have is an interesting little character study and a story of how their lives intertwine amongst those staying at the lavish hotel.
Grand Hotel would have been a wonderful escape for those living through the Great Depression.

Otto Kringelein (played by Lionel Barrymore, probably most famous for his crotchety role as Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life), is a bookkeeper who’s diagnosed with an incurable disease, who quits his job to enjoy his remaining days to have one last spree. Preysing (played by Wallace Beery and the only one who seems keen on attempting a German accent – which is explained in the bio feature), is a bullying German industrialist staying at the hotel in an attempt to merge his flailing company with that of another, more successful business. Enter, Flaemmchen, who goes by “Miss Flaem”, (played by a very young Joan Crawford) a girl with ambition who’s hired by Preysing as his personal stenographer (well, initially anyway…). She soon makes the acquaintance of the handsome Baron and the poorly dressed Kringelein.

Baron Felix von Geigern (played by John Barrymore), is a suave and sophisticated aristocrat who takes an immediate liking to Kringelein but is flat broke and desperately in need of money to pay off a heavy debt (John and brother Lionel are wonderful here in one of their few opportunities to work together). Actually a thief by night, he plans on a late night robbery by stealing valuable pearls from a famous ballerina by scaling the balconies after she leaves for a performance.

Finally, there’s Grusinskaya (played by the over-the-top Greta Garbo). Grusinskaya is a spoiled, pampered, and quite often neurotic Russian ballerina dancer. When she does leave the hotel for her performance, the Baron breaks into her room from the outside window to steal her pearls. When she returns, the Baron, who is still in her room, hides only to hear Grusinskaya, seems intent on taking her own life. Being the gentleman he is, the Baron is able to persuade the young woman to change her mind. Even though she tells the Baron that she wants to be alone, he remains and even after learning of his intentions to rob her, they spend the night together and eventually fall in love.

Kringelein hosts a high stakes card game one night and wins a lot of money but drinks far too much Champaign. He winds up losing his pocketbook and the insolvent Baron pockets it for himself. However, after watching the anguish of Kringelein having lost everything he owns, he doesn’t have the heart to keep it and it miraculously finds its way back to the needy old man. The whole stay is about to take a turn for the worst when the Baron decides to break into Preysing’s room and steal his pocketbook. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned for most of the residents staying at the Grand Hotel.

I found the premise of this film to be brilliant. I’ve spent many an hour during my vacations killing time just sitting in lobbies of such grand hotels like The Palmer House in Chicago and the Fairmont in San Francisco watching the various people come and go thinking about their meetings, trips and encounters. It’s a social study that no educational facility can provide which I’ve always found fascinating. Having said that, I’m sure I’ll be the voice of dissent with my opinion of this film but frankly, I found this character-driven social study to be rather un-engaging and pretty uninteresting. Though the film had a veritable who’s who of actors from the period, I was never able to connect with any of them. In fact, had it not been for the Barrymore brothers, the film would have been somewhat of an endurance test, at least for me. Flame suit on… and buckled up.

It would be pretty easy to write off a seventy two year old film by saying it was riddled with imperfections particularly when comparing it to a film 20 or 40 years it’s junior. But I believe to properly evaluate a film of this age, comparisons must be made to other films that are available from the same era, to best allow for the apples to apples comparison, if nothing else to at least gauge what is and what isn’t available – obviously there aren’t many members here who can recall original screenings… and rarely are we afforded the knowledge as to what condition the original elements are in. I qualify this because I have read many reviews recently of other films from a similar period where I believe criticism of the presentation isn’t justly warranted. Let’s face it, how many tangible things could we own that were manufactured in 1932 that are going to look as good as similar items produced 30 or 40 years later? So, having said all that….

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – especially due to the film’s age, but I can say I was pretty surprised, in fact I was downright thrilled by the video presentation. Sure, it has that somewhat filtered look to it that many films from period have but I can’t imagine many films 70+ years looking better.

The image shows up somewhat soft and as I described with a slightly filtered look to it which stayed fairly consistent throughout the entire film. The black levels were adequate and shadow detail was probably better than expected. I felt the grayscale was perhaps somewhat limited which might be my only criticism – if there was one at all.

Probably what surprised the most about this transfer was how incredibly clean it was. There were only minute traces of dirt or dust and occasional scratches. I did notice what appeared to be a couple of splice jumps but they were not overly bothersome. The amount of light shimmer or instability was almost non existent.

There was a slight to moderate amount of grain, rendering what I considered a pretty impressive film like image – especially in light of its age. Never were there problems with any compression artifacting or edge enhancing halo effects.

The transfer is not without its faults but I hope I look this good when I’m 72…

The original mono track supplied here is rather basic and as a result, not really much to report from the audio side of things. Except for a few Strauss waltzes, basically this entire film is dialogue driven.

There is a slight amount of hiss that is noticeable for the entire film but it’s not excessive nor is it bothersome.

I found the dialogue to be always as clear as possible although due to a few of the accents I found myself having to rewind a couple of scenes. The track is certainly unrefined with an emphasis at the upper range of the scale which is rather thin.

Although it’s never fatiguing, it’s pretty basic and ordinary but it does what is expected of it.

Special Features:
There are a few Special Features included the first being:
[*] Checking Out: Grand Hotel is a superb little featurette which covers the history of the Academy Award winning film from details surrounding Thalberg’s idea (an original concept then) of using a number of superstars to individual brief bios on all of the actors which also describes the reluctance for all of them to accept their parts particularly focusing on the reclusive and temperamental Garbo. Also discussed was the, then, lavish budget and the creation the beautiful Art-Deco sets. Duration: 12:17 Minutes.
[*] Next up is Hollywood Premiere of MGM’s Grand Hotel which is a newsreel which features the opening night celebrations at Grauman’s Theater. There are literally dozens of celebrities (including many who were involved with the film) who show up, sign in, and say a few words to the fans who have lined the streets. A rather short but must see clip for fans of our former stars. Duration: 9:32 Minutes.
[*] The next feature is entitled Just A Word Of Warning which is a short trailer that is indeed a warning to potential theater goers that the show will only be featured for three more weeks at the Grauman’s Theater. Duration: 1:10 Minutes.
[*] What follows is a feature entitled Nothing Ever Happens which was a Vitaphone Presentation of an abbreviated version of the famous play with slightly different character names etc. Duration: 18:40 Minutes
[*] Finally, there are two Theatrical Trailers included. The feature film’s trailer is included as well as the 1945 remake, Week-end At The Waldorf. Both trailers are in great shape. If the elements of the ’45 version trailer are any indication of what the film might/could look like, someday we’re in for a treat.

Final Thoughts:
I have a great appreciation for what this film accomplished. It was one of the first star studded (a unique concept at the time) films that was slightly ahead of its time. The film included all of the necessary ingredients to be a great film; murder, love, hate, theft and even indiscretions. Unfortunately, I found myself unable to connect with any of the characters, although I enjoyed all of their performances. Its hard to say if the lack of connection was due to those who were cast (as hard to believe as that may be), but I am now intrigued more than ever to see the 1945 MGM remake, Week-end At The Waldorf to see how that version compares.

Fans of the film are going to be delighted with this disc which has a decent amount of special features and a most impressive A/V presentation, almost as grandiose as the Grand Hotel itself.

Release Date: February 3rd, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 11 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 25 2004 - 11:08 AM

Herb, Don't sweat it, not all films are for everybody, especially a film made 72 years ago. Great review, I look forward to watching my dvd this upcoming week. Crawdaddy



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#3 of 11 OFFLINE   Larry Sutliff

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Posted January 25 2004 - 11:41 AM

Wow, I had almost forgotten that this was coming out. Nice review, Herb, I can't wait to pick this one up.

#4 of 11 OFFLINE   Roger Rollins

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Posted January 25 2004 - 03:38 PM

This is another one from Warner Brothers that I cannot wait for. Sounds very exciting.

I'm particularly looking forward to the extras!

Thanks again to Herb for another terrific review.Posted Image

#5 of 11 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted January 25 2004 - 10:25 PM

Herb, I would think Warner Bros. is very proud to have you reviewing their product. You put a lot of intelligence and effort into what you write. I so much enjoy reading your reviews and have actually bought a few of these Warner classics based upon your recommendations.


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#6 of 11 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted January 26 2004 - 12:29 AM

Can't wait for this one. I watched it about 6 months ago on a beat up VHS tape, and absolutely loved the film. I can't wait to see it on DVD w/ all the trimmings.

#7 of 11 OFFLINE   SteveGon


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Posted January 26 2004 - 12:41 AM

Herb, thanks for the review. GH is one of my favorite films of the thirties and it's one of my most-anticipated releases. Very glad to hear Warner put some effort into its presentation. Posted Image

#8 of 11 OFFLINE   Jason_Els



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Posted January 28 2004 - 07:32 PM

Grand Hotel is also the source of one of the most famous lines in cinema:

spoken by Garbo in that musky accented voice of hers. It's the stuff of movie legends.
For beauty is only a step removed from a burning terror we barely sustain, and we worship it for the graceful sublimity with which it disdains to consume us. - Rainer Maria Rilke

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#9 of 11 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted January 28 2004 - 11:01 PM

I have never seen this one so looking forward to see this at last

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#10 of 11 OFFLINE   Jefferson


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Posted January 30 2004 - 06:32 AM

Nice review, Herb... and another favorite of mine.... one of the first "all star" films. I'm glad the transfer is so nice. I was also impressed with what Warner did to the 1933 LITTLE WOMEN...

#11 of 11 OFFLINE   Jack Briggs

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Posted January 30 2004 - 07:14 AM

This is a must-have disc. Can't wait.

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