Posted: 09/28/2008


American Masters – You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story


by Keith Miller

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You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, an American Masters presentation is a romantic portrait of the founders of the legendary film Warner Bros. studio and American Film History 101 class all rolled into one. This love letter to a major film studio is narrated Clint Eastwood and gives an insider look at these proto-Hollywood independent filmmakers and hardnosed business sense. Told in three parts, You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, is written and directed by Richard Schickel, and is based on his book.

As a studio, Warner Bros. Was no more an entity than a family institution lead by the brothers Harry Warner the moralistic movie mogul, Jack Warner the firebrand assimilationist and Sam Warner the closer. This documentary is more a calligraphy written love letter on scented paper than it is an objective investigation of the movie studio, when the word movie studio had a much stronger cache. Warner Brothers stands out for consistently putting out the most realistic films of its day. Most of the films focused on working class characters that Depression-era audiences could readily identify as opposed to the glamorous productions produced by other companies.

This is however not a behind-the-scenes look at the dirty dealing, back stabbing, career-jockeying tour de force of Hollywood as it was fighting from hard scrabble to dynasty. While Warner Bros. Had the reputation of producing hard hitting, edging films that reflected the everyday man’s life and struggles. Warner Bros. Launched tha careers of Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Davis and Joan Crawford.

Schickel uses the gritty persona of James Cagney to analogize the business style of the Warner empire. This documentary serves as a visual catalogue of the early Warner films strung together by interviews by prominent film critics and historians, but the treat comes from insert by Martin Scorsese and old interviews by Edward Robinson, James Cagney and Ronald Reagan (as an actor, not the President).

“You get a sense that it was truthful.” One would expect from a hard-as-nails bunch like the Warners, that a lot of proverbial bodies were buried behind the lot but none of those stories are unearthed. Too bad the dark side of truth was not exposed. But for those of us who like film making anecdotes and an overview of early American film, this series is the ultimate special features dvd. Enjoy—it’s well worth the watch, just don’t expect to see the dead bodies.

Keith Miller is a writer and film critic in New York.

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