The power and the stories. The trends and trendsetters. The mirror that reflects our life and times. It’s Rick sticking his neck out for nobody. Superman rescuing Lois Lane. Bette Davis pumping lead into the man she loves. George Clooney masterminding a Vegas heist. Harry Potter wielding his powers. You must remember these…. Clint Eastwood narrates Richard Schickel’s perceptive 5-episode, 85th-anniversary salute to the studio that gained a four-footed hold with an unlikely star (Rin Tin Tin), championed tough guys and dames who gave the Depression and the Nazis the raspberry, countered the box-office onslaught of TV and emerged as a 21st-century giant. Art, business, stars, moneymen, America – it’s an enthralling tale. And it’s all here.
A near-five-hour running time might sound overly generous for a history of Warner Bros. movie studio, but as You Must Remember This
demonstrates, the subject easily earns its epic running time. Sprinting through the studio's silent era, filmmaker/critic Richard Schickel quickly lights on the great Warners run in the 1930s, that defining period when the studio made pictures ripped from Depression-era headlines. Due homage is paid to the signature Warners stars that built its success at the time--Cagney, Davis, Flynn, Bogart--and Schickel is auteur-minded enough to sketch portraits of important studio directors such as Raoul Walsh and Michael Curtiz. Post-WWII, the survey trots along in similar fashion: some background on general changes in the Biz, info about significant stars and filmmakers, and (perhaps surprisingly) a good deal of information about various studio bosses in the years after Jack Warner departed his backlot. A variety of talking heads enhance the narrative (Schickel uses vintage interviews from his own Men Who Made the Movies
series to include comments from the likes of Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and William Wellman). But most importantly, the series is lavishly filled out with film clips--which, to movie-history buffs, might skew a little heavily toward the last 25 years or so, especially given the richness of Warner Bros.'s earlier era. This effect is reinforced by the presence of Clint Eastwood as narrator, since much attention is paid to Eastwood's career as a crucial producer-director-star whose own production company has a close Warners connection. Many of the clips tend to be the signature movie moments (Cagney's grapefruit, James Dean's "You're tearing me apart!", Eastwood's "Well do ya, punk?"), which will be fine for newcomers to film history but lend the proceedings a perfunctory air for those who know the territory. The documentary also requires a hefty "spoiler alert," as a number of the clips include ending or climactic moments, giving away key scenes from the likes of Public Enemy
, and The Searchers
. Any self-celebration by a movie studio (this one officially honoring Warners' 85th anniversary) is surely propelled by the desire to sell DVDs from its library; this one ought to whet appetites for dozens of classic titles. --Robert Horton
Stills from You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (click for larger image)