Warner Bros The Making of an American Movie Studio David Thomson

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
09 Apr 2019
Yale University Press
232 pages: 210 x 140mm
5 b-w illus
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Behind the scenes at the legendary Warner Brothers film studio, where four immigrant brothers transformed themselves into the moguls and masters of American fantasy

Warner Bros charts the rise of an unpromising film studio from its shaky beginnings in the early twentieth century through its ascent to the pinnacle of Hollywood influence and popularity. The Warner Brothers—Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack—arrived in America as unschooled Jewish immigrants, yet they founded a studio that became the smartest, toughest, and most radical in all of Hollywood.
David Thomson provides fascinating and original interpretations of Warner Brothers pictures from the pioneering talkie The Jazz Singer through black-and-white musicals, gangster movies, and such dramatic romances as Casablanca, East of Eden, and Bonnie and Clyde. He recounts the storied exploits of the studio’s larger-than-life stars, among them Al Jolson, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Doris Day, and Bugs Bunny. The Warner brothers’ cultural impact was so profound, Thomson writes, that their studio became “one of the enterprises that helped us see there might be an American dream out there.”

David Thomson is a film critic and historian, and the author of more than twenty books, including Why Acting Matters and The Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its sixth edition.

“I can imagine only one thing more pleasurable than reading this book: writing it. . . . You risk misunderstanding America if you don’t read [David Thomson] on the movies.”—Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World

"Jack [Warner] is lucky to have a man who has brought a lifetime of sitting in theaters, shellacked by the beams of the projectionist’s light, and who has thought so deeply and eccentrically and opinionatedly and ultimately so brilliantly about him. We, his readers, are lucky too."—Leslie Epstein, Wall Street Journal

"Thomson is a British critic whose powers of thumbnail portraiture and plush, velveteen critical judgment . . . are on vivid display as he brings the brothers to life. . . . Thomson’s signature note: a mixture of excitement and rue wrapped up in a sweeping paradox that leapfrogs into the gnomic-philosophical realm. Chop it up into lines of dialogue and it’s exactly the kind of sardonic wisecrack you might have found in the mouth of Bette Davis in any of the pictures she shot for Warner Brothers. . . . For those new to Thomson’s magic-carpet rides: Sit back, hold on and enjoy the view."—Tom Shone, New York Times Book Review

“Thomson’s writing is a killer mix of elegance, erudition and punchiness, a violin case holding a machine gun.”—Victoria Segal, Sunday Times

“A fascinating new book lifts the lid on the cut-throat, exploitative and often inspired men who produced many of our favourite film classics.”—Peter Sheridan, Daily Express

“Nobody writes about the movies with quite the same blend of fond affection, heart-racing excitement and razor sharp insight as David Thomson.”—Allan Hunter, Sunday Herald

“Told with all Thomson’s style and brio, and it paints an irresistible portrait of the studio during its glory days.”—Philip Kemp, Total Film

“Warner Bros thrums with the kind of insights and asides that have long made Thomson the finest film critic ever."—Christopher Bray, Spectator

“David Thomson writes about the cultural and historical significance of cinema with irreverent wit, deep knowledge and devotional lyricism. Warner Bros (the studio, the films, and the immigrant brothers themselves) becomes a fascinating lens through which to examine American identity.”—Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others and Eat the Document

“I believe David Thomson to be one of the very best and most incisive writers on film. He has a poetic and dreamlike understanding of what films mean, but is precise in his observations. He presents a very, very high level of understanding in language that is not only accessible, but often witty and stunningly original.”—Jeanine Basinger, author of The Star Machine