Brothers Warner, Not Karamazov or Marx

DATELINE: Double-down on Cain & Abel

 warner brothers

Cass Warner is the granddaughter of Harry Warner, and she is instrumental in pulling together this family history of an illustrious foursome of Hollywood that are not the Marx Brothers.

The documentary about the studio founders is called Brothers Warner.

Harry Warner was the oldest, the manager of the menagerie, and the most sympathetic in the eyes of the narrator who has an axe to grind. In the middle were two others—Sam and Albert—each of whom were peacemakers and hard workers—between the arch-sibling rivals of Harry—and the notorious and despicable Jack L. Warner.

Whenever cruel, nasty, ruthless, egotistical producers are cited, Jack Warner heads the list. After viewing this film, you know why. He makes Judas Iscariot and Benedict Arnold seem like misunderstood youth.

Despite a lack of education, Harry Warner was well-spoken and highly intelligent. He led the troupe out to California in the days before World War I. They were never successful completely until brother Sam, the creative one, pursued Vitaphone and pioneered sound movies.

It was a gamble that paid off—changing the industry.

Harry wanted to make entertainments with a message (biographical stories like Emile Zola, and political issue movies like Chain Gang). Their Bugs Bunny cartoons may be a highpoint for many. Not till the TV generation did Warners slip into something less grand, but still successful.

Yet, there was a growing rift between Harry and Jack, culminating with a hostile cheating takeover that pushed out Harry in the 1950s.

Flamboyant and unlikeable, Jack Warner even disowned his own son and had him removed from the business.

Resentful and punitive, James Dean makes a cameo by throwing change at Jack’s feet in one meeting (according to Dennis Hopper) to indicate what he thinks of the studio head’s ruthless pursuit of money.

Jack has his defenders, in the persons of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., of 77 Sunset Strip fame, and Debbie Reynolds, who seem to understand his nature. You may be less forgiving or understanding.  He was a monster.

Fascinating, the documentary may settle family scores, but it is great movie-theatrics too.