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A great documentary, beautifully detailed and put together with great
Many of the people interviewed are gone, so this is indeed a treasure of
the ages. I purchased the three cassette tape of the series and recommend
to any avid movie fan to do the same. It's something that can be viewed
again and again.
This series is fascinating, but also very sad. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the greatest studio of them all, is no more. It's heartbreaking that Columbia Pictures, once considered the poverty row' of studios, now occupies the site of MGM.
The meteoric rise (and lamentable fall) of, perhaps, the most legendary
Hollywood movie studio is documented here, in a dazzling three-part
mini-series as lavishly designed as the best of the MGM films themselves.
Pure gold for movie buffs (and as easily accessible to the average viewer);
"When the Lion Roars" combines a grippingly-told account of MGM's history,
rich with tons of vintage film clips, interviews with studio stars, and a
fascinating look at such legendary figures as L.B. Mayer and Irving
- all ably hosted by Patrick Stewart, who is clearly enjoying himself
And well he should be. There are scores of documentaries out there about Hollywood's Golden Age, but none even REMOTELY approaching the quality and craftsmanship of "When the Lion Roars". This is quite possibly one of the finest documentaries ever made. It has been released on video and, though not the easiest thing to find after seven years, is well worth the search.
I am an avid movie fan and pretty much like all the studios, per se.
But the treasure of them all is the MGM studio. It is very near and
dear to my heart and I am deeply saddened that MGM is no longer around.
The original MGM lion lies in an unmarked grave in NJ when it really
should be enshrined as the one that adorns MGM Las Vegas.
Most of the stars in front of the camera as well as behind the camera are also gone. That makes this trilogy so bitter sweet to watch. "More Stars Than There Are In The Heavens" was its motto and these films bring back the golden era of movies to us once more. An absolute must for any film buff to own.
This is a must for Hollywood film buffs (especially those who love films from the 1920s to the 1950s). It tells the story by narrator/host Patrick Stewart of the history of the famous MGM studios from its beginning in 1924 to its fall in the early 1980s. Includes interviews with many MGM stars such as Helen Hayes, Jackie Cooper, Joan Crawford, as well as directors Clarence Brown and King Vidor. Clips from nearly every MGM film are shown, some you will see are: THE WIZARD OF OZ, GRAND HOTEL, GREED, BEN-HUR, THE WOMEN, GIGI, GONE WITH THE WIND, A WOMAN'S FACE, NINOTCHKA, GRAND PRIX, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, etc. The documentary is very long, but worth seeing. Usually shown on PBS, but is available for purchasing. 4 stars here!
I first discovered "MGM: When the Lion Roars" on PBS about 5 years ago.
Even then I only saw part of the documentary- and out of order, the
last section first. I didn't know how much detail of the MGM history it
actually covered until I saw the complete, 3-part documentary on Turner
Classic Movies 18 months ago. When I finally digested even part one, I
was flabbergasted. The documentary, lovingly narrated by Patrick
Stewart, starts at the beginning (to coin a phrase from one of MGM's
great fantasy films). We see the formation of Metro, Goldwyn, and Louis
B. Mayer's "Mayer," starting from 1924 and the silent film "He Who Gets
Slapped." We see the union of the brilliant young Irving Thalberg and
Mayer as they concoct a bona-fide production factory- replete with
school, hospital, police force, fire department, and commissary. The
New York stockholders (headed by Marcus Lowe, later by Nicholas
Schenck) are the magnates who actually oversee MGM, as well as the
theaters who distribute the films made by MGM. And part 1 introduces
MGM's first stars: Garbo, Gilbert, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Marie
Dressler, Helen Hayes, the Barrymores, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Norma
Shearer Thalberg, and the studio logo- the MGM lion. Remembrances by
many of MGM's staff- including Samuel Marx, King Vidor, William Tuttle,
and Margaret Booth- give a no-holes-barred outline of just how the
studio made (and in some instances broke) their stars.
A lot of the veterans interviewed seem almost hypnotic in their praise of the factory and the tyrannical Mayer- which is curious because there are a few pointed recollections by actors (including double-Oscar winner Luise Rainier and swimming star Esther Williams) who did not particularly care for the bullying, manipulative showman- a man not above fainting on cue to get what he wanted, or reminding his contractors that they were his property to do with as he liked. Part 1 ends with the untimely death of 37-year-old wunderkind Thalberg, and part 2 takes the factory into the 1940's and the war years when Mayer decrees wholesome, pious, family-oriented film only. The child stars are introduced: Jackie Cooper, Mickey Rooney, June Preisser, Freddie Bartholomew, and most of all, Judy Garland (given a particularly long testimony by Rooney, who then curiously denies that MGM was responsible- even in part- for her drug addiction). A sobering begins to creep into the dream factory as stars- particularly the females- are unceremoniously dropped (or at least not picked up) as they begin to age. The new contractors- Lamarr, Allyson, Van Johnson, Greer Garson, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Tracy & Hepburn- are introduced. A lot of MGM's male stars enlist and go to fight in the war, which annoys Mayer (of course) to no end. Producer Dore Schary (Mayer's political and spiritual opposite) is brought into the fold as "a new Thalberg," thought to improve movie quality while paring the ascending film costs and tolerate the emergence of the new medium of television.
Finally, MGM's legendary musicals make up a significant part of Act 3. One of the most pointed revelations is the contrast in musical film styles between sophisticated Arthur Freed and schmaltzy, sentimental Joe Pasternak (and they're absolutely right). The 1950's arrive and Mayer's 20-year feud with boss Schenck reaches an unimaginable climax when an "office coup" of sorts terminates Mayer from his own studio- and replaced by Schary, who puts an end to all the sweetness and virtuosity and concentrates on gritty message dramas. Many wonderful, stupendous film clips are shown- but amazingly, none of dancer Fred Astaire in the DVD release. (Despite having made some of the greatest musical films from 1948 to 1957- it appears that his widow holds the release rights to all his images, decreeing license fees for the use of his image. Consequently she had all his footage removed from this documentary, which is unforgivable.) The studio shifts management several times in the next dozen or so years, until the factory is more or less liquidated in 1974 and turned over to the MGM Grand Hotel project of Kirk Kerkorian. A particularly sad image is seeing the MGM sign removed from the executive office building in 1986. But what a time it once was.
I have heard the story of how MGM began, but never in such rich detail. This film dove into the daily inter-workings of the studio in the early days and I found it fascinating. I especially enjoyed the insight of Margaret Booth, a film editor at MGM, and specifically her recollection at Douglas Shearer's attention to detail (he could tell when a film was one projection pin out of sync with the sound).
This part of the film uses a lot of footage from silent movies and gives background detail on these films. My knowledge of silent films is poor, so I learned a lot in just a few minutes of watching this documentary. I also enjoyed how they talked about the struggle for silent stars to transition to talkies.
I had (of course) heard the story of John Gilbert's star falling like a lead balloon, but I never heard the juicy reasons why: he punched LB Mayer when Greta Garbo left him (Gilbert) at the altar and Mayer returned the favor a few years later during a disagreement over a movie.
When Part One ended I was struck most by a feeling of "what if?". What if Irving Thalberg hadn't died at just 37? Where would he have taken MGM and what kind of movies would he have given us? I also wonder what Norma Shearer performances we missed out on due to his death (she left Hollywood six years after he died).
I felt that Part Two wasn't quite up to the standard set by part one. Most notably, part two includes a Hollywood myth that has been debunked: that Jean Harlow died because her mother refused to allow her treatment for uremic poisoning. The fact is that Harlow would have died regardless of when she saw a doctor due to the limitations of medicine in the 1930's.
Part Two also details the rising stars of Clark Gable (and his subsequent tragedy when his wife Carole Lombard was killed in a plane crash), Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland and Hedy Lamarr. As with Part One, I loved the interviews with people from that era and how they enhanced the story. Mickey Rooney's recollections of Garland were particularly touching.
Another highlight of Part Two was the small segment on Luise Rainer. I had never heard of her, but she is the first person to win back to back Oscars. And then she walked away from it all due to the constraints of the studio system. Just hearing this story would have been wonderful, but having it told by Rainer herself brings this film to a whole new level.
Part Two ends with a sense of foreboding (brought on by the narrator, Patrick Stewart): Storm clouds are swirling off in the distance. Could the happy days at MGM be coming to an end?
Part Three begins in the heyday of MGM's legendary musicals and they cover the best of the best in detail: Singin' In The Rain, An American In Paris and Gigi. There are numerous interviews with Vincente Minnelli and he talks about his movies and about Judy Garland. As with all of the interviews in this film, I love hearing his insights and opinion.
Part Three seemed to contain more interviews than the other two parts of this movie. (I have no idea if this is true, it was just my impression.) Besides recalling specific movies, many of the interviewees talked about Louis B. Mayer. These opinions confirmed what I already suspected: people either loved or hated the man; he was either a wonderful father figure or an evil manipulator.
After the musical era, MGM began its slow decline. I knew the rough facts of how and why this happened, but I had never heard the gory details. As a lover of classic movies, I found the last hour or so of this film to be very melancholy. The golden age of Hollywood had to end, but it was still sad to watch it unfold on the screen.
The absolute highlight of this movie was all of the interviews. Besides actors, we hear from directors, producers, writers, film editors, studio executives and contract dancers. These are the people who were there during the golden era of MGM and having their remembrances on film is truly priceless.
I almost didn't watch MGM: When The Lion Roars because it's six hours long and I doubted that anything could hold my attention for that long. I am so glad I took the time to watch all three parts of this movie. It was well worth it. Not only did I learn a lot, but it was very entertaining. I saw clips from many of my favorite movies and the clips from movies I haven't seen left me with a list of movies that I want to see.
Bottom line: if you love classic movies, this is a must see.
When I first saw this on TNT back in 1992, I was disappointed. I
thought there would be more background on Marcus Loew, Metro, Goldwyn
and Louis Mayer's pre-1924 history. I was also (unjustly) critical of
Patrick Stewart's hosting, the exclusion of certain favorite films, and
the very limited coverage of Cedric Gibbons (not to mention many other
MGM luminaries) and the short subject departments.
However, time has been kind to this series. Watching it on DVD has been quite refreshing (even with the Astaire edits harped on by fans). Since '92, I've seen parts of the RKO series (and dying to see more!), enjoyed the 20th Century Fox's "First 50 Years" and its "Blockbuster" sequel (although these utilize too many film clips and not enough back-lot story) and was, once again, a bit disappointed with YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS (Warner Bros.). WHEN THE LION ROARS is as good of a film studio overview as you can get in three two-hour installments.
For one thing, we get a lot more coverage of the Culver City lot than we ever get of the Burbank lot in YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS, despite (and perhaps because of) the fact that so much has been bulldozed to the ground. I visited Warner's twice on their tours and was surprised at how much of it is still intact. I can only imagine how great MGM (the surviving parts owned by Sony) would be today, had anyone listened to Debbie Reynold's suggestion of it being a "ready-made Disneyland".
Although the glory lies in the classic film clips, much of its heart come from the interviews. Margaret Booth's comment that "we never made bad pictures" emphasizes how the art of film editing kept MGM the top dog of the business. Samuel Marx's observation of Louis Mayer crying during LASSIE COME HOME (produced by future adversary Dore Shary) speaks volumes... even if Mayer was the best "actor" of the studio. Earlier footage of Lillian Gish, King Vidor and Eleanor Boardman are cleverly utilized from the BBC's 12-year old Hollywood series in Part 1's coverage of the silent years.
I once thought Patrick Stewart's narration and dramatic introductions a little too... shall we say?... "hammy". Today, they serve as a pleasing initiation into the "make believe" factory. His walk in front of a screen showing 1925's BEN HUR chariot race is as equally effective as any of the interviews; it demonstrates how thin the line between industry "product" and fantasy was during Hollywood's Golden Age.
"MGM: When the Lion Roars" is a 1992 documentary hosted by Patrick
Stewart. Shown in three parts on Turner Classic Movies, it tells the
story of the monolithic studio from its beginnings, taking us through
the influence of the great Irving Thalberg, after his death, during
World War II, after the war, the growth of television, and MGM's
All of the studios had a particular look to their films and a strong point of view. MGM was known for its huge array of stars, its opulence, its classy musicals, and its family entertainment, especially under the aegis of Louis B. Mayer. Even its "B" movies, such as Dr. Kildare, had "A" movie quality.
The studio's main problem was its lack of foresight and lack of awareness that the audience changed over time. The belief was that television was a fad, for instance - major error. And all the studios suffered when the courts broke up studio ownership of the movie theaters.
The documentary is highly entertaining, filled with interviews, scenes, and musical numbers. Stewart voices the incorrect information that Jean Harlow died because her mother's religion didn't allow her to have treatment. Jean Harlow died of kidney disease, for which there was no cure, no transplant, no dialysis. She had plenty of medical attention, but there was nothing anyone could do once she developed the disease.
Very enjoyable and well worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you took a good look at this documentary, you'd see why
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is easily my most favorite movie studio ever. I was
not born during their empire years, but I sure wish I was sometimes.
I remember imitating Leo the Lion very well. I did what he did and I roared just like he did, but I could never get my roars to be as fierce as Leo's were. Probably 'cause I was a little tyke.
It's amazing that MGM's over 80 years old. It's also amazing that a studio that none of the other ones could hold a candle to could be brought to its knees so slowly and so badly. It's also sad that Sony Pictures is now on MGM's old Culver City property (this was their headquarters from the start until 1986).
My favorite MGM lion is Tanner. He's the one that was used on most of MGM's cartoons and all of their full-color features from the '30s to the mid '50s. To me, he was a symbol of their status in the movie industry. Whenever you saw him on the screen, you knew you were in for a real treat. MGM has used their current lion for 52 years now, but he can't compare to Tanner. I drop by YouTube everyday, sometimes just to see Tanner roar, and he has lots of fans.
I also remember racing to the TV set to watch Tom & Jerry. I tried really hard never to miss the lion at the very start of each episode.
Now, Ted Turner/Warner Bros. juggle three-fourths of MGM's entire catalog (1924-1986). WB owns WAY too much as it is and they'd do well to give at least some of it up. Various companies and businessmen bought and gave away MGM for 2 decades. They couldn't deal with losing their old theater chain (Loews). And as the studio system collapsed, so did MGM (which was the hardest hit). I'm surprised they're not totally a thing of the past already because they are still buried in so much debt, 40 years after they started going broke.
I'd really like to get a taste of MGM's true Lionpower. But in time, I think I will.
After all these years I still remember this documentary vividly. I
haven't seen it since it originally aired on TV in 1992 - and boy was I
disappointed when I found out I couldn't borrow it from my local
library, because some jerk had stolen the videotapes! I think that just
proves this mini-series should be made available on DVD, eh? There's
obviously great demand for it.
"When The Lion Roars" was fascinating and made me want to see all of MGM's classic films (so the documentary achieved it's goal!). Warner Bros owns MGM's films now (and this mini-series) and I suspect they're not doing all they can to keep MGM's history alive - they're much more inclined to release their own Warner films on DVD, it seems to me!
Anyway, I'm just dying to watch "When The Lion Roars" again - it would be even more interesting now that I'm older and would recognize more of the film clips and people being interviewed! But the fact that a clueless youngster like I was, still found it so entertaining and memorable, certainly says a lot about the quality of this documentary... and the quality of MGM's classic movie legacy.
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