Only one studio combined good citizenship with good picture-making: American Cinematheque presents The Brothers Warner film series.

caesar_blood Believe it or not, during the last Depression, Hollywood’s movie studios went out of their way to appear more ethically responsible. Driven by fear of government regulation and church boycotts, in 1934 the studios began strictly enforcing the draconian Hays Code. Shortly thereafter, the studios of “Sin City” began cranking out a different tune.

“Combining good citizenship with good picture-making” was the Warners Brothers mantra during the Depression. And with its portfolio lined with gritty gems like Little Caesar (1931) with Edward G. Robinson, Public Enemy (1931) with James Cagney and I Am A Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) with Paul Muni, the studio was smart to brand itself as a champion of American values.

Starting tonight and continuing through March 22, the American Cinematheque presents The Brothers Warner: Classics and Pre-Code Films at the Egyptian Theatre. In addition to the above pre-Code films, the series also includes Captain Blood (1935) with Errol Flynn, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) with Humphrey Bogart, the pre-Code Ladies They Talk About (1933) with Barbara Stanwyck, a recent documentary on the pioneering Warner brothers, and much more.

Oh, and you didn’t think I could do a whole post on Warner Brothers and not mention this guy, did you?

Image: Stills from Little Caesar (top) and Captain Blood (bottom), courtesy of American Cinemathque.

3 Replies to “Only one studio combined good citizenship with good picture-making: American Cinematheque presents The Brothers Warner film series.”

  1. I recall learning in college film/film history classes about another interesting angle here. Something along the lines of, many of the Hollywood studios, including Warner Brothers (originally pronounced “Varner”) were founded by German Jewish emigrants. Those folks faced varied forms of anti-Semitism in America, and one popular such form was the charge that many of them were “socialist,” “communist,” or otherwise vaguely “un-American.” So the story goes, the studio heads bent over backwards in the 1930s and 1940s, cranking out not just pro-“traditional American values” films, but also, ultimately, many pro-war propaganda films, often with the assistance of the U.S. War Department, partly out of sense of extreme patriotism and gratitude about their new home, but also partly to try to inoculate themselves and their compatriots against further prejudice.

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