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Fantastic if one is interested in the history of the movie studios.
Well presented and good quality video and audio. Many clips of famous
Warner Brothers movies and actors. Not the quantity of clips of MGM's
"That's Entertainment" but more than on "The Republic Pictures Story".
One can enjoy many films this way, via clips of their highlights, when
one would not want to watch the entire film.
My laser disk of this is very well done and mine has held up well for about 15 years. Still not available on DVD (7/2006) and I could only find it for sale online as a VHS, which would have poorer video and audio. All three of these studio's history deserves to be on DVD (only MGM's is as of 7/2006)and I hope the studios don't forget.
I don't know whether the version of this documentary I saw was edited, but
Spielberg is listed as one of the presenters but does not appear. Not that
mind, but I am curious.
Written and directed by Robert Guenette, the treatment and footage of mostly actors who appeared in Warner Bros movies is light without being frustrating, and has some rarities. Barbra Streisand, Goldie Hawn, and Chevy Chase pop in to relieve Clint Eastwood of narrator duties, Streisand's appearance an even more painful reminder of her far too few movie acting roles in recent years.
Here we see snippets from some of the multiple films of John Barrymore, Ruby Keeler, Edward G Robinson, Paul Muni, James Cagney (he has an odd montage of moments where he slaps men and women), Olivia de Havilland, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Bugs Bunny, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Doris Day, Jack Nicholson, and Eastwood. Directors also covered include Busby Berkeley - who "blew away the proscenium", Michael Curtiz, and Stanley Kubrick.
The rarities include the footage of Barrymore, screen tests of Lana Turner and Orson Welles (no surprise he wasn't picked up), a scene from Errol Flynn's Too Much Too Soon, Marlon Brando's test where he is soft-voiced, and Paul Newman's with James Dean for East of Eden (where Dean tells Newman to kiss him). Guenette shows Night Nurse with Clark Gable as an example like Turner and Welles of people Warners let get away, with Gable as unsuitable for Warners as Cagney, Robinson and Bogart and even Davis are for MGM. Ruby Keeler is revealed to be a rather awful musical talent, and de Havilland slightly more tolerable playing opposite Flynn.
Of course, the title comes from Casablanca.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Warner brothers all had interesting backgrounds. I think a feature
film was made about them. And this pat on the back to their distinctive
studio is deserved and in many ways nicely done.
It's hosted by Clint Eastwood, assisted by multiple current stars and comments from old timers like Irving "Swifty" Lazar. We see lots of clips from films made at the studio -- both those when Warners held so many people under their notorious seven-year contracts, and those independents who now use its facilities in Burbank, California. The obvious model for this sort of thing is MGM's wildly successful "That's Entertainment." Really, it's a must for people who care anything about the history of popular culture.
I fear most young people don't care or know. Recently I was watching a taped lecture on the history of Ancient Greece by David Kagan at Yale and, in the course of illustrating the personality of one of Greece's earlier leaders, he did an impression of Edward G. Robinson -- "Mneah! Okay, now get movin'." Something like that. None of the students laughed. He asked how many of them had heard of Edward G. Robinson, received a feeble response, and said, "Okay, you've put me in my place. It gets worse every year." My own impeccable impersonation of Jimmy Cagney during a course on memory gets an identical rise out of the students. They never heard of these guys.
Yet, they were icons and, for some, are still touchstones in the development of the few truly American art forms. (Another is jazz.) Without some sort of contact with at least the veneer of vernacular arts, how is it possible to appreciate the joke when some late-night comic moans, "Oh, the humanity!"
Enough of that. About half the film is about these early, unpretentious, inexpensive, movies from Warner Brothers, mostly well intentioned and aimed at working-class audiences. The rest is devoted to the studio's modern productions -- modern in the sense that they're less than 40 years old. I didn't care for the balance. The result is a little too much like an extended preview of recent or coming attractions.
The focus varies a good deal, too, even within each section. The first half tells us about the stars. Genres are mentioned in one or two sentences. And the clips we see are lengthy, representing one example, chosen for no particular reason. Cagney's "Public Enemy" gets about thirty seconds. Busby Berkely's productions get about five minutes.
There's quite a bit of time given to the people who were rich enough to buy the studio after the last surviving Warner brother left. I don't really care who runs the studio now. It seemed to stop having any cohesiveness when the studio contract system ended, no goal other than making money, so sense of community or any desire to create. The owners now seem to be moguls only in the sense that they're terribly wealthy, and the studio has become only a conduit for ambitious, talented, and lucky personalities.
But it's easy to enjoy some of the fun stuff. There are a few minutes of out takes from early movies. Watch James Stewart flub a line from his pre-war career and use the term suggested by the letters "SOB." (Kids: Jimmy Stewart was this actor. He always played nice guys. He was a pilot too and -- well, look him up on Google.) Then there are the first screen tests of people like James Dean, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, and a twenty-one-year-old Orson Welles. (Kids: Orson Welles was -- well, forget it.) We get to see a little of the evolution of Warners' cartoon characters too, like Bugs and Porky and Daffy. Mel Blanc appears for about ten seconds.
Adults, especially those who dissolve into sobs while watching "Casablanca", will probably enjoy it. Younger folks will find it informative. I kind of liked it but I'd rather have seen it done a little differently.
When I saw this advertised, I was excited, but then remembered that we
were still in the throws of "I hate Doris Day" which started in the
late '60s during the sexual revolution.
I had seen other features on Warner Brothers and they showed more Streisand, Minnelli, even Judy Garlalnd (an MGM star), more than they showed Doris Day, who was in fact, after Bette Davis, their biggest female money-maker. For years, WB did not have musical stars on par with the MGM crowd. As a matter of fact, they borrowed leading ladies from Paramount, Fox and MGM to star in their musicals. When Judy couldn't do "Romance on The High Seas," 23 year old Day was tested and got the role. Rave reviews made a star out of her, but more importantly, finally WB had a singing, dancing star that could go toe to toe with anybody at MGM.
So why in these documentaries on WB, does Doris Day get ignored? I'll tell you why. When Doris was #1 at the box office during the 1960s, the sexual revolution swept the nation. Day's husband, Martin Melcher, signed her name to scripts that she didn't want to make, but was forced to or be sued. One of them, "That Touch of Mink" was a huge hit, but an insulting film. It moved Doris to step on the "downerlator" as a result of her character in the film being terrified of sex, but at the same time, accepting expensive gifts and trips from a near total, RICH stranger (Cary Grant). Comics had a field day in clubs and on TV about Day's "virginal" persona. This feeling about her became part of the Hollywood culture, which was drugging it up AND sexing it up -- Day didn't fit in.
When the drugged-out, snot-nosed kids of the Moguls took over Hollywood, the legendary Doris Day's name was mud. Young filmmakers who produced film documentaries, authors who wrote Hollywood books would conveniently omit Doris Day or merely mention her in passing, or build up lesser stars in an attempt to disparage Miss Day. They felt obligated to "not like Doris Day." There are other documentaries, like this one, and books on Hollywood that have chapters on people like Streisand, Natalie Wood, Audrey Hepburn, Cher, Jody Foster, Sandra Dee, etc. none of whom had Day's popularity or box office power. Doris, to this day, remains the top female box office star of all time. But you'd never know it by the way she's treated. With all the hooplah surrounding Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn, you'd think that THEY were bigger than Doris Day. They were not. Ms. Hepburn never appeared among the top ten box office stars. Being a movie star boils down to how many people you bring into the theatres BECAUSE of your name.
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