THE DVD SHELF: Blu-rays of Oscar Winners "Grand Hotel," "Mrs. Miniver," "Driving Miss Daisy," "On the Waterfront"

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10 Feb 2013

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Oscar Season has officially approached, and with it new Blu-ray releases of at least four of the 84 Best Picture winners (thus far).

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Not only did these titles win the Big Prize; they took a combined 19, with 34 nominations overall. Awards only mean so much, of course; these happen to be four excellent films, though, each of which holds up well as many as 80 years later.

The earliest of the four is M-G-M's Grand Hotel [Warner Home Video], and grand it is indeed. Producer Irving Thalberg stocked the movie with some of his biggest stars, led by Greta Garbo (who indeed says "I vant to be alone"), John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore. This is the granddaddy of those interwoven melodramatic tales, with several stories taking place simultaneously. Here we have an aging ballerina (Garbo) whose career is fading away, an indigent Count (John Barrymore) whose fortune is faded away, a luckless stenographer (Crawford) whose hope is fading away, a bullish industrialist (Beery) whose reputation is fading away, and a mousey bookkeeper (Lionel Barrymore) whose life is fading away. All rushing in and out through the revolving door of the Grand Hotel, Berlin.

All the characters — and all the performers — are compelling. Most arresting upon this viewing was John Barrymore. Through every scene he seems to be weighing his options, thinking things out while the others are speaking, and fully aware of his inevitable doom. We are told that Barrymore was one of the great actors of his day. This performance came relatively late in his career — he was already 50y, and died at 60 — but watched closely, Barrymore gives us quite a lesson.

While this was indeed the 1932 Best Picture winner — in the fifth year of the Oscars — it holds a record as the only Best Picture not to be nominated in any other categories. Beery did win the Best Actor award that year, tied with Fredric March for "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." But Beery won for "The Champ," not "Grand Hotel."

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