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According to a March 1932 New York Times article, author and playwright Vicki Baum based Menschen im Hotel both on a true story about a scandal at a hotel involving a stenographer and an industrial magnate, and on her own experiences working as a chambermaid at two well-known Berlin hotels. The first American stage version of Baum's Menschen im Hotel, entitled Grand Hotel, starred Eugenie Leontovich as Grusinskaya and Sigfried Rumann as Preysing. According to the Variety review of the film, M-G-M financed the stage production of Grand Hotel and in return acquired the film rights to the play for $35,000. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts and a New York Times news item credited Hans Kraly with preparing the script "with the assistance and supervision of Vicki Baum," his contribution to the final film has not been determined.
Hollywood Reporter pre-production news items announced Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, George E. Stone and Buster Keaton as the male leads. According to modern sources, Keaton was slated to play "Otto Kringelein." Although Hollywood Reporter production charts list actors Otto Matieson, Kathryn Crawford and Ruth Selwyn in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter pre-production news items also noted that Greta Garbo initially refused to play the part of the dancer. Modern sources list actors John Davidson (Hotel manager) and Sam McDaniel (Bartender) in the cast. A Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item notes that guests and visitors were barred from the set during the filming of John Barrymore's death scene. M-G-M publicity material indicates that Garbo rehearsed her romantic scenes under red floodlights to provide her with inspiration, and that two hundred pairs of woolen socks were worn out daily during the filming of the busy lobby scenes. The socks were worn on the outside of the actors' shoes to prevent noise.
Following the New York opening of Grand Hotel, New York Herald drama critic George Nathan called the film "dull to the point of complete ennervation," and accused Lionel Barrymore of "[looking upon] Hollywood as a mere golden sewer from which to fish up some easy, if aesthetically tainted, manna." Nathan also said that Garbo was "one of the drollest acting frauds ever press-agented into Hollywood histrionic eminence." Garbo's famous line, "I want to be alone," is spoken in the fourth reel of the film. For reasons unknown, the New York Times review neglected to include starring actor Lewis Stone's name in the cast list. Both the Motion Picture Herald and New York Times reviews allude to a "gruesome" scene in the picture, which both reviewers agreed should be cut before the film's release. The exact content of the scene in unknown.
Grand Hotel received the 1932 Academy Award for Best Picture. It was also voted as the best directed, best written and best acted picture of the year by the Hollywood Reporter poll of national film critics, and was voted best picture by both the Hollywood Reporter and Film Daily poll. According to an unidentified source in the AMPAS files, art director Cedric Gibbons was assisted by Edwin B. Willis and Alexander Toluboff. Modern sources indicate that the film was produced and distributed at a cost of $700,000, and was initially perceived as a John Gilbert vehicle. A biography of the Barrymore family notes that M-G-M production head Thalberg decided against Gilbert following the failure of his first three sound pictures. The Barrymore biography also notes that Wallace Beery, "protective of his lovable-brute image," initially rejected his "Preysing" assignment, but eventually accepted the role when Thalberg assured him that his character would be the only main character in the film with a German accent. In a filmography in the biographical film for Edgar G. Ulmer at the AMPAS Library, he is listed as production designer for this film and as the director of German and French versions. As no information has been located concerning any foreign-language versions of this film, it is possible that the versions in questioned were dubbed versions.
The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains an AMPP memo, dated November 27, 1931, in which Lamar Trotti, an AMPP official, wrote that the synopsis contained only one scene that offered "much occasion for worry." Trotti called the scene in which the dancer "flings herself into a bath, comes out stark naked and is seen from the Baron from behind curtains...wholly unnecessary." In January 1932, Jason S. Joy, another AMPP official, told Thalberg that there were two scenes that required "the most delicate handling" possible: the scene in which "The Baron" remains in "Grusinskaya's" room all night, and "the scene in Preysing's room when Flaemmchen visits him." Joy also objected to scenes involving "drinking, dancing women" and references to childbirth. When M-G-M submitted the film for reissue certification in 1936, the PCA suggested a number of eliminations, including "dialogue concerning reference to the mating practices of dogs"; "Grusinskaya" exiting a room dressed in white; references to "Flaemmchen's" figure; "Preysing" snoring; and the entire scene of "Preysing hitting Baron on the head and knocking him down and killing him."
Grand Hotel was spoofed in the 1934 Reliance film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round (see below), in which Jack Benny impersonates John Barrymore and Nancy Carroll imitates Greta Garbo in a mock radio parody of the film. The film was also spoofed in a 1933 Vitaphone two-reel musical burlesque entitled Nothing Ever Happens, directed by Roy Mack. The title of that film was taken from the closing line of this film, spoken by Lewis Stone: "Grand Hotel, always the same. People come-people go, nothing ever happens." The delivery of Garbo's line, "I want to be alone," was spoofed in the 1932 M-G-M film Blondie of the Follies by Marion Davies, while Jimmy Durante imitated John Barrymore in the same film. A 1945 M-G-M remake of Grand Hotel, entitled Weekend at the Waldorf, was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starred Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson and Edward Arnold. A 1959 German version of Grand Hotel, entitled Menschen im Hotel, was directed by Gottfried Reinhardt and starred O. W. Fischer and Michele Morgan. On November 12, 1989, the Broadway musical Grand Hotel, opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York. The musical, which was adapted and choreographed by Tommy Tune, starred Liliane Montevecchi and Karen Akers. Hotel Berlin, a 1945 Warner Bros. film, was based on Vicki Baum's novel of the same name and concerned characters in a hotel during the decline of Nazi Germany.