“Grand Hotel” won an Academy Award for Best Picture.
What began as a high concept idea has since been copied in various forms and genres (most notably the disaster flick): gather a group of A-list thespians portraying colourful characters, and place them in a locale where they periodically bump and affect someone's fate.
Aaron Spelling exploited the “Grand Hotel” concept for years, repeating the same formula on TV with revolving guests in “The Love Boat” and “Hotel,” but the original remains an engaging original, now iconic because of it's remarkable cast of MGM's top talent of the day. Warner Bros has assembled a rather fascinating collection of extras that should amuse fans of the film.
A brisk making-of featurette, “Checking Out: Grand Hotel” covers a fair amount of production history, from the project's guidance through MGM wunderkind Irving Thalberg, through casting, with a special nod to the elusive Greta Garbo.
The film's success, both with the public and at the Oscars, can be glimpsed via the vintage newsreel of the film's premiere. Sound was still only a few years old, but given the prestige nature of the project, MGM used the occasion to show off “all the stars in heaven” which they possessed, and had strategic cameras placed in the streets, by the theatre entrance, and sound cameras by a makeshift desk, where incoming celebs had to ‘sign in' and chat with the desk clerk, reading off cue cards and looking elegant in the best olde Hollywood tradition. It's a fascinating time capsule of studio hype, and charismatic stars of a bygone era.
The “Just a Word of Warning” theater announcement is a kind of ‘last call' notice for movie patrons to catch “Grand Hotel” at Grauman's Chinese Theatre before it leaves Los Angeles. Posting evening admissions above $1, this vintage advert, like the premiere newsreel, is presented window-boxed.
The last goodie on the DVD is a 1933 Warner Bros Vitaphone short, spoofing “Grand Hotel.” Starring some pretty accurate lookalikes, “Nothing Ever Happens” follows a dead-on Lionel Barrymore type as he checks into a hotel and mingles with a Count (a sharp John Barrymore knock-off), an industrialist and his secretary (clones for Wallace Beery and Joan Crawford), and prima ballerina (naturally, a Garbo double, who mocks the actress' famous “I want to be alone” line).
Running under twenty minutes, the short includes a nutty platoon of leggy dancing girls, regularly breaking up the narrative with their pivoting thighs and line dancing. The songs are equally delightful, sporting some inventive lyrics, and though the spoof ends abruptly, the only thing missing is a Bugs Bunny closing salute. An excellent capper to a solid release.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan