The colorful history of the renowned Warner Bros. film studio and the brothers who founded it in the early 1920s.
In the latest entry in the publisher’s Jewish Lives series, renowned film scholar Thomson (Television: A Biography, 2016, etc.) explores the lives of the Jewish immigrant siblings who reinvented themselves as the Warner Brothers. The author explores the contributions of each of the brothers, but the most notable character is Jack Warner (1892-1978), a successfully intuitive studio head and quintessential Hollywood scoundrel who would go on to achieve one of the most lucrative careers in the business. There have been plenty of books about the studio and the brothers, and their Jewish immigrant story has already been exhaustively recounted in Neil Gabler’s monumental group biography Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (1988). Nonetheless, within this slim volume, Thomson offers a compelling, well-packed narrative. He vividly appraises WB’s signature genres, such as the early gangster films and backstage musicals, within a grounded social history of the country and gives meaningful weight to how and why the studio flourished during the Depression and the war years. “Warners was more honest about hard times than any other studio,” writes the author. “It was the factory system that defied the slump….As the box office faltered, Warners gave us dames, gunfire, jazzy music, wisecracks, and outrageous, unhindered ids in smart suits, guys who’ll go for broke because they know they’re doomed.” While Thomson provides a lively overview of the brothers’ lives, his commentary on the many enduring WB stars, including James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and Bette Davis, and the back stories behind several classic films such as The Jazz Singer, Public Enemy, and Casablanca, are also noteworthy.
An entertaining, well-documented history of the legendary studio for film scholars and fans alike.