Warner Bros. // 2008 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // March 15th, 2010
"It is not the challenge of dollars. It is the challenge of ideals and ideas." -- Harry Warner
What do you think of when you think of Warner Bros.? When Cass Warner Sperling, Harry Warner's granddaughter, took to the streets asking that question for The Brothers Warner, she found out that Bugs Bunny and cartoons come to mind more often than her grandfather did. That's not entirely a bad thing, because it shows the enduring legacy of one of the studio's creations. Still, it does remind the audience that the four brothers -- Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack -- made a mark on the movies that needs to be highlighted.
The Brothers Warner tells the basic story of the Warners, who started with a nickelodeon in New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1903 and kept running into obstacles that they met by expanding their business little by little. Eventually, they ushered in the sound era by buying Vitaphone and making The Jazz Singer, made movies like I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang that led to reforms, and spoke out on film against the Nazis with 1939's Confessions of a Nazi Spy. Their run continued until Camelot, with Jack Warner eventually selling the studio and being eased out of its operations.
The documentary includes clips from historic Warner Bros. films such as Casablanca, The Public Enemy, and The Adventures of Robin Hood (a 1938 color film with a bright appearance that hasn't faded as much as many more recent movies and TV shows). There are also comments from celebrities such as Angie Dickinson, Tab Hunter, Norman Lear, and George Segal, as well as historians who discuss the way the studio "pushed the envelope" on the infamous Production Code. Most of this will be familiar to many a film buff, though.
What Cass Warner Sperling gives this documentary is warmth. As writer, director, narrator, and occasional on-screen figure, she gives the story a personal touch, recalling Harry's personal philanthropy and his family's World War II patriotism as well as their on-screen accomplishments. She recalls the sale of the studio as something that split the family, not just a business decision. Small touches, such as her search for the family's real name and her visit to Jack Warner's grave, make the story Sperling's own. Combine these with her strong sense of history and narrative, and you've got a fascinating account of movie history.
The picture quality is better-than-average for a documentary that uses stills and clips from all eras; it's likely that the prints used got some cleaning up. Vintage sound bites are used well, coming across clearly. There's an option for an Asian language in the setup, but I don't know which one, since the language name itself isn't translated into English.
If you've already seen The Brothers Warner, you might be disappointed by the lack of extras. When telling the story of such a fabled studio, there's bound to be some interesting stuff that didn't fit in the documentary.
If you haven't seen it, you ought to. Film buffs will enjoy going down memory lane with Cass Warner Sperling.
Not guilty. Let's hope the Warners' legacy inspires a new generation of filmmakers.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated