Back in 1930, authoress Vicki Baum published a novel, Menschen im Hotel, inspired by her experiences working in two grand Berlin hotels.
That novel inspired a Broadway play. And that Broadway play was funded by a film company, MGM, which had bought film rights to the novel for $35,000. The play did great business - it was perfect pre-publicity for the movie.
Production whiz-kid Irving Thalberg took the Grand Hotel film project under his wing. And for it, he conceived something which had never been done before. This film would not just have one star, or two. The entire ensemble cast would be made up of stars - Hollywood's first stellar-blockbuster.
And so the film went into production in 1932 with an unrivalled cast for its time. Headliner was Greta Garbo as the ballerina Grusinskaya. Playing opposite her as the Count turned jewel thief was the great John Barrymore, lured from the stage. The young and rising Joan Crawford was cast as the stenographer Flaemmchen (try not to cough too deeply when pronouncing that) and Wallace Beery was industrial czar Preysing.
In the first movie which saw the two brothers together, leading MGM star Lionel Barrymore was cast as Otto Kringelein, a book-keeper at Preysing's factory who has discovered he is soon to die, and who has decided to live his last few months or weeks in style at the Grand Hotel. And cadaverous Lewis Stone was cast as Doctor Otternschlag, a one-man Greek chorus who spends his time simply observing the goings-on at this grand Berlin Hotel.
It's Lewis Stone who delivers this final pronouncement at the movie's close. "People come. People go. Nothing ever happens."
Of course, much has happened in the 24 hours of the hotel's life. There has been love and romance, intrigue and death. And Greta Garbo has uttered her immortal words "I want to be alone" - words which would haunt her for the rest of her career.
In this high-melodrama, every character is reaching a life-changing development, and currents are building which are meshing each character to the next. Plots and sub-plots abound. It seems a miracle of concision that such an intricate story depending on quite substantial character-development was able to be told satisfactorily in just 108 minutes - Kevin Costner should take a look at this movie.
The key plot is the redemption of John Barrymore's character, the Baron, who comes to the Grand Hotel to steal Grusinskaya's fabled pearls and finds his heart is stolen instead. Barrymore shows some signs of the ravages of alcohol, which ended his career so prematurely. But he acts with great presence and dignity, as do almost all the stars.
In fact, for the most part the acting is pretty modern in style for a film made in 1932 - the only member of the ensemble whose acting style now seems too dated and completely over-the-top is Greta Garbo, who seems to be playing a parody of herself.
But forget that. Just revel in this vintage melodrama and watch one of the greatest casts ever assembled for a motion picture, then or now. Just the sensational art-deco settings of the lobby and foyers and cocktail bars of the hotel are worth the DVD's admission price.
This movie is still one of the grandest products of the cinema dream-factory. Come for a visit. Stay awhile, in your luxury suite in Hollywood's Grand Hotel.
The mono sound is quite adequate for the purpose; dialogue is crystal-clear and there is no evident hiss or shrillness. In fact, for its vintage, this is premium-grade audio. Too many movies of these first years of the sound era were flawed by primitive recording techniques; this shows remarkably fast technical evolution.
The soundtrack features uncredited music by Oscar Strauss, Franz Lehar and Rachmaninov; this background music is always at a very low level, and while definitely not hi-fi, it is also free of harshness or distortion.