The Brothers Warner (2008)

To my surprise and delight, this is on TV right now; didn’t see it in the TV guide (evidently wasn’t looking closely enough) so I was very pleased to see it just come on. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just cut and paste this journal entry I wrote when I first saw it last year; I’ve just cut it into smaller paragraphs for relative ease of reading, cos normally my journal is made up of long single paragraphs whose length Jack Kerouac might admire…


Watched quite an interesting doco on ABC2 tonight, The Brothers Warner, made by Harry’s granddaughter… some remarkable stuff in there, not least the discovery by me that there were actually four Warner brothers; she starts with a vox pops section asking people what did they associate with the name “Warner Brothers” (several people understandably named Bugs Bunny), and did they know who the actual Warner brothers were. And, well, I didn’t, not entirely… Jack I obviously knew of, Sam I’d read about in a book (he died just after the Jazz Singer premiere), Harry I might’ve been able to name… but I don’t think I’d ever heard of Albert before, Albert being the second oldest brother who kept probably the lowest profile of them all… apparently he acted as something of a buffer between Harry and Jack, who would come to loathe each other (particularly after Jack cheated Harry out of ownership of the company; apparently the three brothers sold their shares to this bloke who sold them all back to Jack the next day).

What particularly struck me, though, was their stance towards Nazi Germany; obviously Warners were the “socially conscious” studio, but I didn’t realise they were the only one of the big studios to break off relations with Germany before the war, and that they’d done so as early as 1934 (nor, alas, that the Dachau concentration camp was open for business within two months of Hitler taking power; I’m actually kind of sad to have realised I didn’t know a statistic like that before now and that I had to watch a documentary on Hollywood to learn it)… and I certainly didn’t know about the flak they copped from the film industry and indeed the government for doing so. While much of the rest of America was happy to trade with the Third Reich, Harry Warner refused to do so (knowing that he would lose a lot of money in the process cos Germany was still a huge market for Hollywood films) and was vilified for it (there being a fair bit of anti-Semitic propaganda against Hollywood at the time cos it was full of Jews exploiting good Christian people and all that), and the Hays Office stymied all his attempts to make a film about what was going on in Germany (he apparently wanted to make a film about the concentration camps around 1934 or so, by which time they had apparently been reported on, and Hays & co still refused permission); Warners only got to make Confessions of a Nazi Spy cos by that time an actual Nazi spy ring had been busted open by the FBI, and apparently there were all sorts of threats being made, many of them by people within the industry who were terrified by the prospect of losing all their own German market income cos the German government had threatened a boycott of American films if Warners made this one, etc… and then of course there was the post-war anti-Red hysteria, whereby if you’d been opposed to the fascists in the 30s then you must’ve been a Communist, why else would you have been opposed to fascism in the US… yeah.

I mean, obviously I knew about things like the burning of Wilhelm Reich’s books in the 1950s, just like the Nazis had done a couple of years earlier with the work of Jewish authors in general, and I knew there was still a lot of trade going on with the Nazi regime before the war, all of that, but still, kind of depressing to be reminded of just how much of an inclination towards fascism there must’ve been in the US at that time (again, I know about the 1933 fascist coup attempt on the US government, and films like Gabriel Over the White House which, really, can only be called a fascist tract. I forget where I read just recently that intellectual sympathies in the 1920s and 30s were as likely to incline towards fascism as they were communism; hell, I’ve read enough of that sort of thing in Lovecraft) and how, once the business of war was over, it was time for the US to head back in that direction somewhat itself despite having just spent years waging war on other fascist countries. Business as usual.

And kind of stunning, I suppose, to realise people like Louis B. Mayer had no issues doing business with a regime that, had he lived under their auspices, would’ve gladly had him turned into a lampshade… Jewish businessmen trading with a government whose policies denied their right to exist. I don’t know. Someone else in the film did say something interesting, though, about the difference between the German Jews and the Russian Jews (like the Warners, though technically they were apparently Polish) that emigrated to the US; apparently most of the latter were fairly poorly educated and so had to find work in areas that didn’t require much education, whereas the former tended to be quite well-educated and wanted as little to do with the their Russian co-religionists as possible, presumably cos they thought they were better than them. Could it really have been something like that, you know, Jews who’d made it big in the US thinking they were better than their fellows left behind in Europe and so not caring about them? I don’t know, maybe not. Still, suffice to say I came out of watching that film with more respect for Harry Warner than I did for uncle Louis…

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