The Brothers Warner (2008) – Cass Warner Sperling

Is The Brothers Warner, a documentary about the history of Warner Brothers Studio and the men that founded it, directed by the granddaughter of Harry Warner, a giant infomercial for the studio? You know what, it is. But that’s allright, we’re getting fairly astounding access to home movies, candid photos, and relatives that we must be a little polite. And The Brothers Warner does have more than a spoonful of objectivity, not when it comes to grandfather Harry but certainly in regards to great uncle Jack, who’s painted as a charismatic snake who stabbed his brothers in the back to wrestle control of the studio. Jack is the most compelling figure and we get some real insight into him thanks to a post card that director Cass Warner Sperling found in an attic. Little details like that abound in this straightforward but interesting doc about four men who saw an opportunity and genuinely wanted to make the best out of it, not just for themselves but for the public. I’m sure most studios would like to paint that picture but Warners can crow about their influence on sound pictures, they’re decision to boycott Nazi Germany many years before any one else would, and their track record of socially conscious pictures like Confessions of a Nazi Spy, and Casablanca.

They can be less proud of how Jack truly did bilk his two surviving brothers, Harry and Albert (Sam, a pioneer in sound technology, died a few days after the premiere of The Jazz Singer in 1927), out of the studio that they built together. The movie isn’t shy about this and certainly not shy about Jack’s eventual buyout from the studio, when he fell out of touch after being unable, for example, to recognize Bonnie and Clyde as a masterpiece.  The Brothers Warner is a competent documentary and much more impartial than I was expecting. But what was I to think, the DVD cover had two pull quotes on it; one from the brothers themselves and the other from the current head of the studio. Excuse me for expecting the kid gloves.

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