"American Masters" You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (TV Episode 2008) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
7 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Hard to shoe-horn everything about this studio into one documentary...
AlsExGal17 October 2010
but I think it split the difference between being entertaining to those casually interested in film history and those that are professional students of such material.

I first saw this documentary on PBS, and it is highly recommended for anyone who is interested in film history and the history of the most successful entertainment empire today - Warner Brothers. It's much better than "Here's Looking At You", the documentary made in the 90's on the studio. For one, there is one consistent narrator - Clint Eastwood, rather than a series of personalities as there was in "Here's Looking at You". In "Here's Looking at You" it seems like these series of narrators are there to show themselves off rather than talk about studio history. Eastwood keeps the focus on the studio, its product, and its strategy.

Of course, as the studio moves into the era of special effects the documentary can't help but show off a little bit with some of their superhero and fantasy films, but I'll grant them that. Because so many of the directors that were around when Warners transformed from an upstart playing with sound to a major studio have passed on, they have interviews from the 60's and 70's with directors such as Mervin Le Roy talking about what it was like in the early days. Of course, there is a big focus on Jack Warner who turned out to be a much shrewder studio head than his nemesis Louis B. Mayer over at MGM. It shows how Warner made the decisions that got the studio through the depression, the war, and the competition of television.

I might have missed it, but I don't think the documentary talked too much about a very bad move that Jack Warner made that only the good fortune of the future managed to rectify. At one point Jack Warner sold the pre-1949 Warner film library to raise capital. Warner Bros. would today remain a studio with the finest part of its legacy no longer under its control had it not been for Ted Turner purchasing the RKO/pre-1949 WB/pre-1986 MGM film library in the 80's and then reuniting it under Warner Bros. control at the turn of the century when Ted Turner sold his interests in his cable network and film library back to Time-Warner. This is mentioned in "When the Lion Roared", the sister documentary on MGM, also recommended.

In conclusion, this is a very good documentary on the history of Warner Bros. and its lasting film legacy. Highly recommended.
5 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Boring and VERY Badly Edited
Falkeep24 September 2008
While I have enjoyed many of Richard Schickel's previous shows, this one is really pretty much a waste of time. The writing is very boring and pedantic. Watching the show is like sitting through a particularly boring lecture in a college class you really want to enjoy. There isn't a coherent thread of storytelling and it seems to bounce between one topic to the next with little or no transition. I can't tell what the purpose of this documentary is supposed to be... is it about the stars and directors? Is it about the style and themes of the films? Is it about the history of the studio in relation to the world it is in? Is it about everything that happened at WB within specific periods of time? I can't tell what Schickel is trying to get me to take away from this documentary. It is like he has an outline and checklist of things he 'has' to cover and is just going along "Rin Tin Tin... check, The Jazz Singer... check". Where is his passion for his subject?

Clint Eastwood's narration does not pull me into the story he is telling, but then how excited can he be reading the script he was given? The interviews are mostly uninteresting and seem to be a mix of old stuff from Schickel's Men Who Made The Movies series and dropped in to remind us who he has talked to before (and maybe to save him the trouble of doing new work) and talking to critics and academics who we don't know or care about who seem more interested in impressing Schieckel than us, the audience. The camera work on the interviews could have been done by any junior high kid with a tripod and the work of the interviewer does not bring out great storytelling from the interviewees.

Another thing which is bad about this show is the editing... usually very well done in Schickel's documentaries. Some segments show the old magic... like the James Cagney and Busby Berkely segments... which do what the segments should do... make us, the audience, interested enough in the subjects that we want to get the movies we learn about. However, such segments stand out because of how bad he rest of the editing is. I have worked as a projectionist for three decades and know that anyone can cut frames, but editing is more than that. Most of the transitions between shots are very abrupt and look like one shot is dropped down before the end of the previous shot. In addition, the movies we all know are represented by the clichéd clips that we have all seen a thousand times... can he not find anything new to give us about Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy, for example... and not only are all of the clips from those shows the 'usual suspects' he spends way too much time on them rather than spending the time on what we HAVEN"T seen and heard before.

I don't know how much Warner Brothers paid for this hack job, but it was too much and if I am expected to want to buy the DVD to watch this show more than once, sorry... once is more than enough. Maybe it is time for Schickel to call it quits and retire because he sure doesn't seem to have anything worth while to give to the public. I'm sure USC would allow him to give really boring lectures to film students and play his 'greatest hits' to them to show them how wonderful he is.

If you don't get it from my review... I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this documentary to anyone. Jeez, how does ANYONE make the Warner Brothers story a snoozefest? P.S. -- Even before the show starts, you know to expect something bad... the title card of the first part tells us it covers '1929 - 1941' and yet the shows goes back to the teen's and covers films into the 50s. Does Schickel not even know what his show is about or how to use a calendar?
14 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Thought it would be a lot better!
junefirst2630 September 2008
I was really looking forward to seeing this three part special, however I was really kind of let down. The first part was the best, with most of the old classics represented, then it started to fall apart about half way through the second part, and by the third part I thought I was watching a tribute to Clint Eastwood. I know that Warners was known as the rough and tumble studio that would'nt pull any punches, but my God, does each clip have to push you over the edge? About the time I saw Ginger Rogers getting whipped, I was asking myself, gee didn't they do any comedies or musicals. Lots of down and out people, people getting shot, even the KKK! Then from Dirty Harry on, I thought I was watching a tribute to Clint Eastwood, with some Steven Spielberg thrown in. What happened to A STAR IS BORN -1954, 2001-A SPACE ODYSSEY, and NETWORK ??? It was also very boring, basically just a clip show, with very little inside information. Nothing about how each studio had their own theaters, until Uncle Sam told them to break them up and sell them, very little about the break up of the studio system, and how they took on television. All in all, very little imagination went into this, as I said, besides the tribute to Clint Eastwood feel of it, it was basically just five hours of clips. If you are interested in the history of Hollywood I would suggest these better titles to watch for; GOLDWYN: THE MAN AND HIS MOVIES, 2001; MGM: WHEN THE LION ROARS, 1992; Hollywood THE GOLDEN YEARS: THE RKO STORY, 1987, 6 parts.
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A rich topic wasted on a very bad documentary
rod-duncan12 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
As a fan of Warner Bros.' 'Golden Age of Hollywood' productions, it was a huge disappointment to watch this documentary. One would expect that a historical study of a movie studio with such a rich past would be based on serious research of its archives and presented in a coherent and organized matter.

On the contrary – this documentary's editing jumps back and forth in time making it incomprehensible for a first timer on the subject to understand anything (and irritating for anyone with an average knowledge on the subject). The statements presented by the different interviewees are mostly related to the specific film clips shown (nothing we haven't seen before) and its main star than to the studio that produced it and the behind-the-scenes reality. The production process, the writers, costumers, cinematographers and composers behind these films aren't even mentioned - who can imagine Warner Bros. in the late 30's and early 40's without the Epstein brothers, Orry-Kelly, Sol Polito and Max Steiner (composer of the well-known introduction fanfare) just to name a few? Bette Davis, who spent 18 years of her career as a contract player and sometimes referred to as the 'Fifth Warner Brother' (her movies were huge money makers), is superficially mentioned. The studio system, the introduction of Technicolor and the entertainment business in the pre-TV environment aren't even explained.

Besides the poor topic coverage, the presentation gets to the point of annoyance: it is almost impossible to read interviewees names/titles or the film clips' titles due the amazing speed which the tiny font size subtitles are flashed on the lower part of the screen (when they are actually shown, since sometimes no identification appears whatsoever). And that's the review of the first half/disk – I slept through the second half….

Unfortunately, a work presented in a careless matter with no respect to chronology or in-depth research on such an interesting topic. Don't waste your time and money on the rental.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Ambitious and well-produced...
jlewis77-118 March 2009
This 3-part documentary covers the history of Warner Bros. in greater depth than the previous HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU, WARNER BROS., with dedicated film critic Richard Schickel providing a more highbrow tone. Somewhat light on studio politics and the personal lives of the mogul family, it nonetheless makes good use of classic film clips from the early silent features (My Four Years In Germany) to the Batman series. All of the important high-points are covered: the canine exploits of Rin Tin Tin, the Vitaphone "talkie" revolution, Al Jolson in THE JAZZ SINGER, the gangster roles of Robinson/Cagney/Bogart, the glossy star vehicles of Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, the company's role in World War II, the 1953 arrival of 3-D and CinemaScope, the belated move into television production the following year, the short career of James Dean, the "new cinema" of the sixties as represented by BONNIE AND CLYDE, the rise of independent directors like Scorsese and Kubrick, and the franchises of Superman, THE MATRIX and Harry Potter. The narration by Clint Eastwood fits in nicely, often maintaining a low-key tone amidst eventful and sometimes violent screen clips. Most of the interviews provide great fodder; I particularly liked Carroll Baker's comments on the troubled 1950s period and Molly Haskell's perspective on Doris Day.

The selection reflects the director's personal tastes. On the one hand, the inclusion of such off-beat pictures like STORM WARNING and THE BEAST OF 20,000 FATHOMS and interesting flops like NOAH'S ARK and THE SILVER CHALICE are a definite plus. On the other hand, Schickel's preference for monochrome in Part 1 gives the false impression that Warners did not shoot in Technicolor prior to THE ADVENTURES IN ROBIN HOOD, while the studio was, in fact, a major leader in that process starting in 1929. As expected, the emphasis is on features and not short subjects; although a few early Vitaphone shorts of the '20s, Joe McDoakes and Bugs Bunny do get some recognition. Praise must also be given to the restoration quality of the sequences, making one wish Warner Home Video would hurry up and get many of these great films on DVD as soon as possible.

The basic "problem", as indicated in previous reviews on this site, is the overemphasis on the studio's crime dramas. The Busby-Berkeley sequences are too short and, apart from the demanded inclusion of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, there is little fun and music until the arrival of Doris Day in Part 2. Excluding A STAR IS BORN (a serious and depressing musical that would fit quite well with the many social commentaries that DID make the cut), we zip through the late '50s/'60s like lightning (obviously skipping MUSIC MAN) in order to focus more on the then-shocking scenes of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, DELIVERANCE and THE EXORCIST. There's little question that the 70s were more productive at Warner's than other studios (i.e. MGM), but the overall tone (as represented in these clips) is quite sadistic. The arrival of DRIVING MISS DAISY couldn't come soon enough.

It is wonderful that both the producers and PBS took on this subject. (The companion book is quite good.) Unfortunately, it could use some of the "fun factor" of previous anthologies like Hollywood THE GOLDEN YEARS (RKO), MGM: WHEN THE LION ROARS and 20TH CENTURY FOX: THE FIRST 50 YEARS & THE BLOCKBUSTER YEARS. I remember once thinking Patrick Stewart's coverage of MGM was a bit hammy and over-the-top. This series could certainly use him to lighten the load, as clarified when I re-watched that series on DVD last month.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An Ambitious Undertaking
classicmoviecomedy26 September 2008
Richard Schickel's decision to tackle the entire history of the Warner Bros. studio was an ambitious undertaking. Schickel's track record on such projects varies wildly. His "The Men Who Made the Movies" series was a valuable historical record of some of the finest directors of the first half of the 20th century. More recently, however, his documentaries have alternated between one-on-one interviews with people like Spielberg and Scorsese, and larger projects such as "Charlie: The Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin" from 2003, which unfortunately offered little new insight into the work of that creative genius. The worst I can say about Schickel's recent effort is that they feel like promotional pieces, and this Warner Bros. documentary is no exception.

That said, it's hard to complain when you're treated to clips of Al Jolson singing, or the great gangster films with Cagney and Robinson, or the hard-boiled social dramas of the early 30s, and of course the Busby Berkeley musicals. Part One covers the years from the beginning of the studio, through the pivotal year of 1950, just as the studio system was really starting to collapse, and film forever relinquished its title to television as America's first choice in entertainment.

Part Two covers the period of 1950-1989, and in many ways is just as interesting as the first part, even though we've seen many of these clips before. From the studio's grappling with television, to its cutting-edge films of the 60s (Warners was one of the key studios in the American New Wave, with films like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", "Bonnie and Clyde", and "Mean Streets"). The segment takes us through the 70s and 80s, with entirely too much time spent on Clint Eastwood, and not nearly enough on Stanley Kubrick, whose work remains some of the most intensely personal and unique to ever come out of a Hollywood studio.

Part Three is essentially a re-hash of Warners' biggest hits over the last decade-films like "The Matrix" and "Harry Potter". Half the episode is devoted to Clint Eastwood, one of our finest filmmakers (and I felt his inclusion here, as the director of films like "Bird" and "Unforgiven", was far more justified than spending so much time on the Dirty Harry films in part two). Considerable time is also spent on George Clooney, who remains something of an anomaly in 21st century Hollywood-a star with great taste in selecting intelligent projects, and who is able to alternate between well-produced entertainments like "Ocean's Eleven", and more serious-minded films like "Good Night and Good Luck".

The good news is that the documentary includes many clips (all restored) that help to give a really good view of the changing trends in cinema over the last century. The bad news is that too little time is spent on the actual workings of the studio. We hear surprisingly little about the Warners themselves, for instance, in the first episode (although more time is given to Jack L. Warner in part two, which covers the years when he essentially took control of the studio.) It was especially good to see the early years covered. It's important to remember that Warners' biggest earner in the silent days was Rin Tin Tin, even though they also had prestige director Ernst Lubitsch under contract, who made some of his best films there in the 1920s. A real treat was the clip from "My Fours Years in Germany", the first film produced by Warner Bros. in 1918, and one of the real classics of its time.

A fair amount of time is spent on some of the major directors, such as Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock (who worked briefly but memorably at Warners in the early 50s).

Ultimately, though, even at five hours, the documentary leaves viewers hungry for more. This is perhaps an inevitable problem when trying to cover an entire studio's history. It's good to see this update of Warners' history, which was previously tackled in the 1992 documentary "Here's Looking at You" (also hosted by Clint Eastwood).

The history of the great studios of Hollywood's golden age is a subject that is of great importance to the history of American show business, and world cinema in general. MGM, the most prestigious studio in its day, was documented in the superb "When the Lion Roars" documentary in 1993. Unfortunately, neither Paramount, 20th Century Fox or even RKO (among the major studios) have ever had anything approaching a documented history like this. Paramount and Fox, in particular, with their galaxy of stars and directors, would seem ideal candidates for the next such documentary, although neither studio presently has any interest in preserving their history. RKO of course is not as well known today, since the studio itself is long gone, and lacked the contract players, specialty genre films and distinctive studio moguls that defined the other studios. And while studios like Columbia and Universal have grown to a staggering size today, they were distinctly "minor" studios in the golden age, making their history of that period less easy to document.

As it is, "You Must Remember This" is a commendable effort to provide a survey of the output of Warner Bros. over the last 90 years. It's flaws are understandable, given the amount of material to be covered.
5 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story provides a smorgasborg of some of their greatest movies in one program
tavm25 September 2008
Just finished watching this five hour version of the film history of Warner Bros. on the PBS "American Masters" series. Lots of fascinating clips of various pictures from the studio over the years starting with their first one from 1918 called My Four Years in Germany. From there, we hear of a young man named Darryl Zanuck and his early days as a writer on the studio's "Rin-Tin-Tin" pictures, to the triumph of the first feature talkie The Jazz Singer and the tragedy of Sam Warner's death the day earlier, to the "gangster movies" that made stars of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, to the eventual stardom of Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. When we get to the '50s, we're briefly shown titles of Warner's TV shows as well as highlight clips of classic cartoons like Duck Amuck and What's Opera Doc? along with Doris Day's musical heyday and Elia Kazan's discoveries of Marlon Brando and James Dean. By the last two hours comes various titles from the '70s to now that show how committed Warner Bros. is to compelling dramas from big stars like Clint Eastwood (who narrates here) and George Clooney as long as they also provide crowd pleasing blockbusters. Perhaps the way this documentary glosses over some bad times and flops makes this less than ideal as a definitive history of one of the greatest movie studios of all time, but still You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story should provide plenty of reasons while watching all those scenes to want to go to the nearest library or video store and check many of their movies out!
3 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed