Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

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momsne

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Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostFri Mar 10, 2017 9:51 pm

First, some background facts. If any details are wrong, feel free to correct them. I just watched again "Private Detective 62", a Warner Bros. crime picture starring William Powell and Margaret Lindsay. The credits identified Rian James as the screenplay writer. James' career at Warner Bros. is pretty typical for many of the writers there, he wrote a novel ("Love Is A Racket",1932) that the studio made into a movie. Then Warner hired James as a writer. To me, it seems that James and a lot of the talent that studio production chief Darryl Zanuck hired were on borrowed time after Zanuck left the lot around July 1933 in a dispute over the Warner brothers imposing a 50% salary cut on non-contract craft employees.

It is my opinion that, on a consistent basis, the movies Zanuck supervised production of in those two years were among the best made and most entertaining movies ever made by any Hollywood studio. Yet, when Zanuck left the studio, the quality of its movies changed for the worst starting with productions he did not supervise. I've read that Warner Bros. had a hiatus in production from October 1933 to December 1933. The studio had lost millions of dollars a year during the Depression years of 1931 to 1934, but Warner Bros. never went into receivership like Paramount or RKO. Still, Warners was a pinch penny studio that frowned on retakes and rewrites and strove to make movies on a three week (with 6 day work weeks) schedule.
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In a description of the movie "The Narrow Corner" that William Everson was showing at the New School in Manhattan on April 7, 1967, Everson describes this 1933 movie as "one of the most faithful and effective of all Maugham adaptations." He also has this closing comment:
POST SCRIPT ON A LOST ART:
Compare the rather shaky and unconvincing matte-work in the channel sequence of OUTCAST OF THE ISLANDS with the beautifully staged and cut miniature work in the channel sequence of THE NARROW CORNER, with its greater camera mobility, variety of angle, and skilled knowledge of just when to cut away from a miniature before the game is given away!
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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s last two films at Warner Bros. under his studio contract were "The Narrow Corner" and "The Life Of Jimmy Dolan", both filmed on schedule and on budget. Then, his contract up, Jack Warner told him his services were no longer wanted, leave the lot. 84 years later, both these movies stand the test of time, cynical, well-acted and well-written movies. Both Dudley Digges' performance as "Doc" Saunders and Arthur Hohl's as "Captain Nichols" are them at their peak.

So, my question is, does anyone know what happened at Warner Bros. for Jack Warner and company to effectively dismantle and demolish the studio, getting rid of most of the stars they had under contract. Some talent left on its own, William Powell said he wanted to work on an on-picture basis, $60,000 a movie. Then he went to MGM and stayed there for over 15 years. William Wellman said he would never work as a contract movie director again and he never did. But the studio did not renew the contracts of stars like Warren William, Richard Barthelmess and Ruth Chatterton. And please, no useless comments about how other studios did not hire Ruth Chatterton or Richard Barthelmess as contract employees for lead roles, Captain Obvious facts. In the 30s, above the title stars had their fans but with the Depression around, other studio executives were tossing around nickels as if they were manhole covers.

The question I have is why did Warner Bros. get rid of so much talent in front of and behind the camera? My opinion is that new studio production chief Jack Warner was behind the purges. Both because he was cheap and because talent like director Roy Del Ruth and actress Loretta Young could leave to avoid working for him, they left. In short order, helped by the censorious new Production Code, by 1935 Warner Bros. was turning out mostly crap movies. Film director Gottfried Reinhardt claimed that Jack Warner was mean for the sake of meanness. So maybe the explanation why Jack Warner got rid of all the talent that Darryl Zanuck had collected, including the Warner repertory company of actors, was meanness, spite work.

Well, it was a long time ago.
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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostWed Mar 15, 2017 9:09 am

As for Ruth Chatterton leaving, I believe her Warner Brothers pictures did not make much money outside Frisco Jenny so in the mind of WB executives, she was being paid highly and had approval over directors and stories with nothing to show for it. I think she was also toying with the idea of retiring from films to become a aviatrix. Kay Francis who also came from Paramount with Chatterton and Powell was able to make hits out of several of Chatterton's rejects including The House on 56th Street and Mandalay. Francis was able to survive in spite of some of the lackluster scripts they gave her until 1937-1938. The studio bought the play First Lady for Norma Shearer and when that part of the deal fell through (MGM had borrowed Leslie Howard for Romeo and Juliet and wanted Norma Shearer in return) the film was given to Francis (probably to appease her when they gave Tovarich which was originally earmarked for her to Paramount's Claudette Colbert). When First Lady flopped, it was curtains for Francis at WB and they tried to get rid of her.
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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostWed Mar 15, 2017 2:55 pm

I don't recall whether it was Olivia de Havilland or Bette Davis who said 'Everything at Warner Bros was a fight,' or words to that effect. Particularly during the early 30s, the management seemed particularly combative. By the later 30s, they seem to have learned to keep their talent on a longer leash, for example granting Errol Flynn and George Brent furloughs rather than see them storm off in a huff.
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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostWed Mar 15, 2017 5:46 pm

Before Jack Warner could dismantle anything, Zanuck took a lot of talent with him when he resigned in April 1933, George Arliss and Loretta Young among them. He took some directors too such as Roy del Ruth. In his memoirs, Arliss explained that for him Darryl Zanuck was Warner Bros. He saw Jack Warner only when contract negotiations came up.
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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostSun Mar 19, 2017 10:17 am

".....by 1935 Warner Bros. was turning out mostly crap movies."

Hmmm. I'm not sure I can entirely agree with that statement.

Consider this list:-

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Captain Blood
The Story of Louis Pasteur
G Men
The Goldiggers of 1935
Dangerous
Go Into Your Dance
Bordertown



Not exactly a rubbish batch, would you say?
"Korngold has so much talent he could give half away and still have enough left for himself..." Giacomo Puccini (1921)
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Donald Binks

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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostSun Mar 19, 2017 6:49 pm

brendangcarroll wrote:".....by 1935 Warner Bros. was turning out mostly crap movies."

Hmmm. I'm not sure I can entirely agree with that statement.

Consider this list:-

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Captain Blood
The Story of Louis Pasteur
G Men
The Goldiggers of 1935
Dangerous
Go Into Your Dance
Bordertown

and the perennial "Robin Hood" from '38 - and what about "Casablanca" from '42?
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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostMon Mar 20, 2017 8:00 pm

Well, 1936 wasn't exactly poor pickings either:

ANTHONY ADVERSE
THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
THE PETRIFIED FOREST
THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR - released Feb 1936
BULLETS OR BALLOTS
THE GREEN PASTURES
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937
GOD'S COUNTRY AND THE WOMAN - Warners first three-strip Technicolor feature
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momsne

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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostSat Mar 25, 2017 12:40 am

Warren William made the movies below all in a row at Warner Bros.. Every one of these eight movies is better and more realistic than most of the movies made at Warner Bros. only a few years later. Warner Bros. made some very fine movies later in the 30s, but most don’t hold a candle to “Three On A Match” or “Gold Diggers of 1933.” And no one answered the question I had, why were most Warner Bros. Pre-Code pictures of such high quality.

1932: The Match King, Three on a Match, The Dark Horse, The Mouthpiece,
Beauty and the Boss
1933: Gold Diggers of 1933, The Mind Reader, Employees' Entrance
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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostSat Mar 25, 2017 7:32 am

momsne wrote:...[W]hy were most Warner Bros. Pre-Code pictures of such high quality.


I suspect the answer is embedded in your question - the Code. The best of the Bros (imho) during the early '30s were very socially conscious about what was happening in the country at the time, that is, The Depression, prohibition, and the liberation of women. When Breen and Hays started calling the shots it was impossible to get the same level of commentary into their films and they were forced into a more conventional style of film making, gutting their chances of equaling their earlier masterpieces.
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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostSun Mar 26, 2017 5:06 pm

The fact that the Breen office and the Production Code bowdlerized Hollywood movie content after July 1934 does not explain why during a narrow window of time Warner Bros. produced so many great movies. Part of the reason may be that Hollywood studios were willing to try almost anything to get customers to buy movie tickets during the Depression. But the economic downturn did not end in 1934, lingering on to 1939, when the United States geared up for the upcoming war. In an April 1996 article in Film Comment magazine, Dale Thomajan wrote about Warner Bros. movies in "Poetry Without A Poet: Warner Bros. Pre-Code". He answered the question "Who killed Warner Bros. style" by blaming Frank Capra, whose 1934 hit "It Happened One Night" was 11 reels. Jack Warner back then wrote production chief Hall Wallis a memo, stating that "maybe we are cutting our pictures too fast and making them too snappy."

My opinion is that Darryl Zanuck hired a great team at Warner Bros., a production unit that made movies at lightning speed. And, as lightning in a bottle is not permanent, much of the Warner talent left the studio lot after Zanuck left, forced out in part by Jack Warner's cheapness. With Jack Warner as studio production chief, Warner Bros. became just another Hollywood studio churning out movies. When Hal Wallis produced "Casablanca", one of his problems was a shortage of crafts workers, many took higher paying jobs at Southern California defense contractors. One set builder said that studio construction workers would walk around holding a 2 X 4 piece of wood even if they didn't need it, because if they didn't, a floor foreman would ask why they were goofing off. Jack Warner got the hostile work environment he wanted and those studio workers who could, left.
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Harlett O'Dowd

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Re: Warner Bros. - 1932 to 1933

PostMon Mar 27, 2017 9:08 am

momsne wrote:The fact that the Breen office and the Production Code bowdlerized Hollywood movie content after July 1934 does not explain why during a narrow window of time Warner Bros. produced so many great movies. Part of the reason may be that Hollywood studios were willing to try almost anything to get customers to buy movie tickets during the Depression. But the economic downturn did not end in 1934, lingering on to 1939, when the United States geared up for the upcoming war. In an April 1996 article in Film Comment magazine, Dale Thomajan wrote about Warner Bros. movies in "Poetry Without A Poet: Warner Bros. Pre-Code". He answered the question "Who killed Warner Bros. style" by blaming Frank Capra, whose 1934 hit "It Happened One Night" was 11 reels. Jack Warner back then wrote production chief Hall Wallis a memo, stating that "maybe we are cutting our pictures too fast and making them too snappy."

My opinion is that Darryl Zanuck hired a great team at Warner Bros., a production unit that made movies at lightning speed. And, as lightning in a bottle is not permanent, much of the Warner talent left the studio lot after Zanuck left, forced out in part by Jack Warner's cheapness. With Jack Warner as studio production chief, Warner Bros. became just another Hollywood studio churning out movies. When Hal Wallis produced "Casablanca", one of his problems was a shortage of crafts workers, many took higher paying jobs at Southern California defense contractors. One set builder said that studio construction workers would walk around holding a 2 X 4 piece of wood even if they didn't need it, because if they didn't, a floor foreman would ask why they were goofing off. Jack Warner got the hostile work environment he wanted and those studio workers who could, left.


I suspect the answer is somewhere in between. For me (ymmv) I find the majority of early Code films (1934-1938) from ALL studios to be flaccid. In a way, I think it took the industry longer to adjust to the coming of the Code than it did to the coming of sound 5 years earlier.

Also note that many silent players (Pickford, Fairbanks, Navarro, Haines, Barthelmess, etc.) wrapped up their starring careers around the same time.

Also keep in mind that the industry went full in on the New Deal. Many pre-Code films - many of which were made at Warners - were message films which took on the Depression head-on. That pretty much stopped once FDR was sworn in. Not just at Warners, but industry-wide.

And keeping urban poverty and crime off the screen (or at least sanitized) upset the Warners creative niche as much as the Code did.

Jack Warner may not have trusted his creative stable to adapt - or adapt quickly enough - to the new reality of the Code and FDR and assisted the exodus.

Re: IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, yes, it was one of the first Code films to adapt well to the new reality. I also think that Thalberg adapted well. Or, at least, the MGM gloss was well suited to that long period of transition. (CAMILLE, SAN FRANCISCO, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, etc.)

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