An intimate portrait and saga of four film pioneers--Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack who rose from immigrant poverty through personal tragedies persevering to create a major studio with a social conscience.
Intimate portraits of brothers Albert Warner, Harry M. Warner, Jack L. Warner, and Sam Warner, the siblings who were close knit at the time of Warner Bros. Studios founding, but who later became estranged. This film, written and directed by Harry's granddaughter Cass, traces them from their humble, immigrant beginnings, to their breakthrough achievements, and their continuing imprint on American culture. This historic view of a family, and Hollywood's golden years offers invaluable and rare still photographs, classic film footage, and private access to relatives, friends, employees, and historians. Written by
Cass Warner Sperling's commentary states that the 1927 film "The Jazz Singer," starring Al Jolson, grossed more than any movie made to that time and remained the all-time box-office champ until the release of "Gone With the Wind." It was actually Jolson's next film, "The Singing Fool," that set the box-office record that lasted until "Gone With the Wind." See more »
A member of the Warner family looks into the history of Warner Bros.
Cass Warner Sperling, granddaughter of Harry Warner, took on the subject of Warner Brothers Studio and the brothers behind it and has made an excellent documentary. She goes into the history of the family, from its emigration from Russia, the kinds of jobs they could get, and the family finally entering the nickelodeon business. Sperling tells the story with a lot of warmth and a nice lack of formality.
The brothers were as different as any four people could be - the outlandish Jack, the good businessman Harry, the kind-hearted Sam, and the quiet Albert - but the main characters are Jack and Harry.
Naturally, since this is done by a family member, the emphasis is on the positive aspects of the studio - the risk-taking to get into sound, the tough social topics the studio tackled, their work against Naziism before World War II, and their wartime contributions. The difficulties with Sam Warner's widow, Lina Basquette, are soft-pedaled. It is noted that Sam's and Lina's child was taken from her and raised by the Warners. If that strikes people as odd, it's because it's not mentioned how much power and influence the family wielded against an actress. What also isn't mentioned is that the Warners had Lina blacklisted, and she never met her daughter until she reached adulthood.
Another thing left out is exactly how Sam Warner acquired Vitaphone, but it's possible that Cass Warner doesn't know the story. The anti-Semitism was rampant in Hollywood in the '20s, and in fact, Joseph Kennedy was one of the people determined to get the Jews out of the film-making business. Therefore, when Sam, who was a big redheaded guy, went to meet the Vitaphone people, he asked Lina to wear her Catholic cross. Unaware that Sam was Jewish, Warner Brothers was able to acquire Vitaphone.
No words are minced regarding Jack's ultimate betrayal of brother Harry and his whole family, a very shocking and sad page in the family scrapbook.
Some of the people interviewed include Lina Basquette, George Segal, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Debbie Reynolds, Roy Disney, Sherry Lansing, film historian Jeanine Basinger, Dennis Hopper, Tab Hunter, and ex-staff members at Warner Brothers - all very good and insightful.
Jack Warner used to call Raoul Walsh into his office and moan to him that he needed him to direct a film. Who's in it? Walsh would ask, and Warner would answer, "some bum." That's probably what he thought of his actors in general; unfortunately, he seemed to view his family the same way. A fascinating story and highly recommended.
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