“It is not the challenge of dollars; it is the challenge of ideals and ideas. If the producers of pictures see only the dollar, then I believe those production efforts will fail” Harry Warner at an American Legion dinner back in the 1930’s. This quote truly brings out what the film industry should be about. It also hits upon not only what we see on the screen or TV but how we should live our lives. Something four extraordinary brothers did at a time when many people were just trying to scrape by or do what everyone else did. This is the story of the Brothers Warner who forged their own path and broke down walls that stood in the way of “educate, entertain, enlighten” the world.
This is a documentary of the ups and downs of these four men, Albert, harry, Jack, and Sam, whom many people know nothing about. This is evident in the beginning as director writer Cass Warner Sperling found out when she went out into the public to see if anyone knew if the brothers were real or just a namesake. To be the granddaughter of a Harry and a family that made way for so many studios because they took the risks many wouldn’t and to find out that most people didn’t know they were real, must be disheartening. This is why she set out to bring their story to light. The chances, heartache, rivalry, pioneering, and drive that made Warner Brothers Studio become what it was and is today.
Told through Cass’ narration, we learn from the beginning what four brothers did to create such a milestone of entertainment community. The family immigrated to the US from the part of Russia that is now Poland so that they could be educated and to work, something that was not a right or guaranteed at a time. Since they had no schooling, most of the children went to work. Around 1903, Sam and Harry, saw a nickelodeon show and immediately knew what they wanted to do, soon after Albert and Jack were on board as well. With the help of other family members, including hawking the family heirloom watch and “Bob” the horse, the brothers were in the movie business. Over time after opening up a store front theater using a sheet and borrowed chairs, making their own movies that true profit was in the distribution of films. In 1923 Warner Brothers Pictures Inc. was born. The company would do many things to change the landscape of the industry; the first ‘talkie’ in “The Jazz Singer” which brought sound to film and was the axe to silent films in 1927, making controversial films, “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” that helped spark nation reform of prisons or “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” that first told and used the word ‘Nazi’ to the world. The four brothers had their work; Harry as President of the company, Sam the CEO, Albert the Treasure, and Jack as the Executive in charge of Operations.
Even though Harry was the oldest and business savvy, Sam the one who drove the brothers into advancing technologies and Albert the financial brain trust, it was Jack who stood out the most and was the ‘face’ of the company. Jack tended to do things his way or else and if you didn’t like it you were gone. He was the boisterous fellow and life of the ‘party’ that was over the top. Yet when it came down to business he knew what was good for the brothers, the company, and the public. He led the company all the way up to the late 60’s when Warner Bros. Pictures as he knew it came to an end. The Brothers Warner were no part of the film industry. An industry they helped forge and in some cases changed. Whether they were signing the likes of Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, James Cagney, or Humphrey Bogart to star in some of the most memorable films or creating such masterpieces as “The Jazz Singer”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, “Casablanca”, “A Star is Born”, and “Camelot”.
This documentary has some wonderful clips from the golden age of cinema. Showcasing the talent the studio helped get started, the film makers they made, the historians who continue to educate those who want to know, facts of these four charming men. What started out as a search for the real surname of her grandfather, Cass Warner Sperling takes us on an amusing journey of the Warner family up thru the eventual sale to Seven Arts and eventually to its current state with AOL and Time as the multi conglomerate AOL Time Warner Communications. Cass does a good job of bringing this story to the public. Whether it is thru the home movies, casual interviews with the aforementioned actors, directors and scholars or her personal search filming, she does well in staying true to the family credo. When it comes to the overall feel of the presentation, it does seem a little slow paced at times and the filming of Cass on screen looks amateurish. With such a huge undertaking of the history of these men, the family, the people and themes they exposed, I would have thought that even though they may not be owned by the family anymore, the studio would have backed her more and given it a much cleaner look and finish.
In all, I want to give my two cents of this production and its meaning, Family. We are all born into one and sometimes find new ones along our path in life. There will always be joy, heartache, reward, support and love within that family as long as you stick together and know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. At times your duty within the family may change and you have to pick up the pace and keep everyone together. No matter what happens when it is done as a family no one can impede your climb to success, not financially, physically, or most important, spiritually. The family Warner credo says what most families should strive for as a group, “educate, entertain, enlighten”. Oh and the Warner family true surname, Wonskolaser.