Thursday, August 24, 2017

My Amazon Review of David Thompson's " Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio"

From Youngstown, Ohio to Hollywood

David Thompson knows how to write. He has written a very entertaining book about four Jewish immigrant brothers from Youngstown, Ohio who make it in Hollywood and America. The book is a fitting edition to Yale’s Jewish Lives series, despite it being a biography of a movie studio rather than an individual.

As with most of the early movie studios Warner Brothers evolves from operating theaters to running a major studio in Hollywood. Along the way we witness the sibling rivalry among the bothers mostly pitting the oldest, Harry against the youngest, Jack. Harry stays true to his religion and his wife, not so much for Jack. Ultimately Jack wins and sells the company out from the other brothers in the 1950s and then buys it back to become its sole owner.  Harry dies of a stroke shortly thereafter.

The real guts of the book is how Warner’s evolved from making Rin Tin Tin movies in the early 1920s, to pioneering sound with Al Jolson’s “Jazz Singer.” From there we go on to the realistic gangster movies that brought us such stars as Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney. Warner’s also brings us the great Busby Berkeley song and dance spectaculars. In “Gold Diggers of 1933” Joan Blondell sings one of the two great anthems of the 1930’s, “My Forgotten Man.” The other anthem was “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.”   So if you add to the gangster movies, “Gold Diggers”, “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” and “Petrified Forest” you get a real flavor of America in the 1930s. Because this is in the Jewish Lives series Thompson highlights the rolls of such Jewish actors as Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, Peter Lorre and Lauren Bacall.

Of course no book on Warner Brothers would be complete without a full discussion of “Casablanca,” the best movie ever made that starred Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and was directed by the Hungarian Jew Michael Curtiz. In a few short pages he takes us into the inside of making that movie.

There is much more in book with vignettes on Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Howard
Hawkes and Joan Crawford. My one minor quibble with the book is that Thompson throws in a few gratuitous comments about Donald Trump. Nevertheless it is a very enjoyable read. 

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