Grand Hotel (1932)

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Released 16-Mar-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-Checking Out: Grand Hotel
Featurette-Premiere Newsreel
Featurette-Just A Word Of Warning Theatre Announcement
Short Film-Nothing Ever Happens
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1932
Running Time 108:00
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (43:36) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Edmund Goulding

Warner Home Video
Starring Greta Garbo
John Barrymore
Joan Crawford
Wallace Beery
Lionel Barrymore
Lewis Stone
Jean Hersholt
Robert McWade
Purnell Pratt
Ferdinand Gottschalk
Rafaela Ottiano
Morgan Wallace
Tully Marshall
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music William Axt
Charles Maxwell

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    "Grand Hotel. Always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens."  So speaks one of the characters at the beginning and end of the film, which is of course meant for our ears as an ironic comment. In the original novel, this line seems to have been something like "There is a strange thing with guests in this hotel. No-one goes out the door in the same way that they came in."

    This film was based on the book Menschen im Hotel (People in a Hotel) by the Austrian writer Vicki Baum, first published in 1929. A play followed. MGM purchased the US rights to the play and had it translated into English by William A. Drake. It was a common practice in those days for Hollywood studios to finance stage plays and musicals, so that they had a ready source of material to be adapted for the cinema (and the rights came cheaply in comparison to works that were already successful).

    The story sees a group of characters staying in the plush Grand Hotel in Berlin. There is the lonely Russian ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), who is at the end of her tether emotionally, on the verge of a nervous breakdown and seeing the end of her career approaching. The suave Baron Geigern (John Barrymore) is not quite what he seems. Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) is dying from an unspecified disease, though he does not appear to be ill. He determines to spend his savings on a few days of luxury in the hotel. By coincidence, the boorish owner of the factory he works in, Preysing (Wallace Beery) is also in the hotel, to try to clinch a deal to save his business. He employs a stenographer (Joan Crawford) on whom he has designs. She, though, is attracted to the Baron. There is also the hotel concierge (Jean Hersholt) whose wife is in labour in hospital. Finally there is the world-weary Doctor Otternschlag (Lewis Stone), one side of his face having been disfigured in the Great War.

    The interaction of these characters forms the meat of the story. In making the film, producer Irving G. Thalberg decided to cast stars in each of the major parts. Buster Keaton was considered for the part of Kringelein, and Garbo wanted her former lover John Gilbert to play the Baron. Sanity seems to have prevailed.

    Director Edmund Goulding does a fair job with the film. There are some nice directorial touches, such as the man carrying a slab of meat having to wait while a coffin is taken out of the hotel, and the early morning cleaner sweeping out the foyer accidentally also sweeping out a dachshund that is being led out of the door. However, Goulding fails to rein in the excesses of Lionel Barrymore, whose mannered performance is somewhat grating. Garbo overacts a bit as the emotional ballerina, although she is as always fascinating to watch. Joan Crawford steals the picture in every scene she is in as the sluttish stenographer Flaemmchen in a star-making performance. Lewis Stone does well in the small role of the doctor. I liked the way he slightly averts the disfigured side of his head when speaking to a hotel employee early in the film, this detail bringing a touch of realism to his performance. Jean Hersholt gets billing above the title but he is only on screen for a few minutes of the picture. Wallace Beery is the only one of the lead actors to sport a German accent in a role in which he virtually plays himself - apparently he was not a particularly nice man.

    The art deco sets by Cedric Gibbons are also impressive, and give the feel of a modern hotel 1932-style with the height of luxury. The film is very well shot by William Daniels, with some luminous photography.

    Grand Hotel won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1931-32, ahead of some fine films like Five Star Final, One Hour With You and The Smiling Lieutenant. It is the only film in the history of the awards to win Best Picture and not win any other awards. It would be some recompense that Beery shared the Best Actor award that year for The Champ, the award which Lionel Barrymore had won the previous year for A Free Soul. Not to mention the fact that producer Thalberg and actor Hersholt would later both have honorary awards named after them.

    This film is highly enjoyable, and although it drags slightly in the middle part, it is still well worth watching.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The opening titles are window boxed so that the full aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is displayed.

    The transfer is reasonably sharp and shadow detail is pretty good. The contrast appears natural and you can see the luminousness of the original nitrate film to an extent. Blacks are not especially dark.

    The major problem with this transfer is the level of grain apparent. At times it is very distracting, much like the Universal DVD release of Frankenstein, filmed the previous year. The print used for the transfer was in reasonable condition, but has not been fully restored for this release. There are flecks and some slight scratches, dirt and dust apparent throughout.

    There are two consecutive frames with half the image missing at 55:27. The first frame has the bottom half of the frame totally black, the next frame has the top half blacked out. From 73:00 for about a minute, every other frame seems to be vertically stretched slightly, resulting in a shaky effect. There are also a couple of frames missing at 89:41.

    There are no noticeable film to video artefacts.

    The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change occurring during a fade to black between scenes at 43:36. It could not have been better placed.

    Subtitles are available in 10 languages. The English subtitles are quite easy to see, being white with black borders, and appear to translate the dialogue accurately.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Being a 71 year old film, you would not expect the audio to be brilliant, and it is not, but it is quite satisfactory all things considered.

    There are audio tracks in three languages, all in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. The default is of course the original English soundtrack, with alternative French and German dubbed tracks available.

    Dialogue is clear and easy to understand. There is some occasional distortion of the sound, which is undoubtedly in the source material. Being a single channel mono track, there is no surround encoding present. Hiss is present but happily is not intrusive.

    Audio sync is very good, with no issues here.

    The music score is not credited, but was apparently by Dr William Axt and Charles Maxwell, and seems to be almost totally comprised of reworkings of other people's music. There are several Strauss waltzes and one of the themes from Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, the latter used as a theme for the ballerina. The existence of an American bar and jazz lounge in the hotel is an excuse to include some jazz music as background. The score is pretty good and complements the film nicely.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    A nice if not extensive selection of extras.

Main Menu Audio

    Themes from the film are played for this static menu. The menu is in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced, which is an odd choice for a 1.33:1 transfer.

Featurette - Checking Out: Grand Hotel (12:18)

    A short documentary on the background of the film. It was made for this DVD by the Turner group, who own the MGM film library as well the Warners back catalogue, and features brief interviews with Sydney Guilaroff and Maureen O'Sullivan, both of whom have been dead for over 5 years. These interviews look as if they were done for the filler that appears between films on the TCM cable channel. O'Sullivan talks about Garbo and refers to their one scene together, so she is obviously not talking about Grand Hotel (Anna Karenina, presumably). The documentary is interesting enough to watch once, though I found the pronunciation of the narrator (Tom Kane) a little annoying: "John Berrymore"?

    The documentary also asserts that Vicki Baum based the work on her experience as a maid in two Berlin hotels. In fact, she took a job for six weeks in a single hotel in order to research the background for the novel.

    Optional subtitles are provided.

Hollywood Premiere (9:22)

    This is a priceless if not very entertaining publicity short of the guests arriving at the premiere of the film at Sid Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 1932. This was obviously an early simulcast with radio, and takes the format of celebrities arriving at a hotel desk outside the theatre and signing in. The desk is manned by then film star and MGM employee Conrad Nagel, and an British character actor whose name I cannot quite remember.

    This is merely an excuse for a parade of stars. Apart from some of the actors from the film, there are appearances from numerous stars of the time, some of whom are virtually forgotten now: Edward G. Robinson, Lew Ayres, Lola Lane, Clark Gable, Norma Shearer, Edmund Lowe, Ben Lyon, Bebe Daniels, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (then Mr Joan Crawford) and Robert Montgomery, among many others. Louis B. Mayer gives a short speech.

    Oddly, this short is window-boxed and presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The window boxing is quite significant, and I could use the zoom function on my TV without losing any picture information.

    Optional subtitles are provided.

Nothing Ever Happens (18:42)

    This is a short musical comedy parody of Grand Hotel, complete with songs and a chorus of dancing girls. This was made by the Vitaphone company, a subsidiary of Warners, in 1932. Pretty dull and insipid stuff, but appropriate as an extra for this DVD. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with optional subtitles.

Just A Word Of Warning (1:11)

    This is a short advertising trailer specifically for Grauman's Chinese Theatre, warning customers that the run is about to end. Get your premium evening tickets for $1.50. The trailer is in good condition. It is window-boxed just like the Hollywood Premiere short.

Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

    This is a trailer for a later reissue of Grand Hotel, and is in reasonable condition, presented in 1.33:1.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This appears to be identical to the Region 1 release, the only differences being that the Region 1 is in NTSC format and has another trailer included. According to reviews, the Region 1 suffers from the same grain issues, so this is a draw.


    This is a very good film with some excellent performances, and star-power of a kind no longer possible. Highly recommended despite a grainy unrestored video transfer.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, March 15, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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