The Brothers Warner

The Brothers Warner

by Allan Tong for FILMbutton

Harry Warner’s granddaughter, Cass Warner Sperling, invites audiences to look at the rise and fall of Warner Brothers, one of the big Hollywood studios that her family founded a century ago. Harry Warner was the quiet one, Albert was serious but professional, Sam was the visionary; and Jack was the youngest who adored the spotlight. Rare archival footage, family photos, and documents trace their rags to riches story over 50 years.

Not surprisingly, Sperling has access to family members and confidantes that an outside filmmaker would lack, and those interviews with the likes of studio exec Sherry Lansing and actors Dennis Hopper and George Segal tell an exciting story about a studio that took enormous gambles, notably launching the era of talking pictures, and producing films with a social conscience in conservative Hollywood (i.e. Casablanca). Sadly, the brothers were their own worst enemies with renegade Jack eventually backstabbing his brothers and seizing control of the studio.

Though entertaining and enlightening, The Brothers Warner, would’ve been better served with an outside director or collaborator to give Sperling some distance and milk the theme of sibling rivalry that should’ve been the spine of this film. Instead, the rivalry is downplayed while the “social conscience” angle is hammered a few too many times. Also, the sixties are basically skipped over and the last chapter in this saga ends abruptly.

Note: The Brothers Warner has been released on DVD and is screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Allan Tong is a filmmaker, Toronto-based festival programmer and film journalist who specializes in rock music.

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