With the advent of talking pictures, MGM attempted to surpass its rival studios by assembling a stable of America’s foremost screen actors. In 1932 the studio flexed its stellar muscle with "Grand Hotel," based on a popular novel of Vicki Baum. Premiered with an extravagant publicity campaign, the film featured most of MGM’s A-list. Not only was it remade in 1945 as "Week-End at the Waldorf," but it also became the archetype for a successful, often imitated, screen formula, a collection of several individual subplots in which different characters converge at some large-scale venue. Certainly no more impressive cast members were ever aggregated for a movie. Barrymore brothers John, as a destitute aristocrat, and Lionel, portraying a terminally-ill clerk, share the spotlight with veteran character actors Lewis Stone and Jean Hersholt. A frequent film heavy, Wallace Beery repulses as a despicable tycoon. Two graduates of the Silent Screen, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford have the female leads. As a world-weary ballerina, Garbo was never more striking. And she croaks out her signature line, "I want to be alone;" though her many fits of exaggerated histrionics are occasionally laughable. As a gold-digging stenographer, Crawford delivers a wisely, restrained performance, considered by many to be the finest in the film. The convergence of these characters at a five-star Berlin hotel proved a sensation, and "Grand Hotel" captured a Best Picture Oscar. Although some of the original gloss has dulled, the film remains a fascinating document.
Sadly, Warners’ new "Grand Hotel" blu-ray offers only passable picture quality, a minor improvement over earlier DVD releases. Some of the scenes are grainy, and the contrast is often muddy. Certainly a film of this stature deserves more dutiful restoration. The previously-released extras include a brief documentary, some shorts (the footage of the gala premiere is astounding,) newsreels and trailers.