Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul Premieres On TCM

Full publicity shot of the four Warner brothers in 1922. From left: Sam Warner, Harry Warner, Jack L. Warner, and Albert Warner. Courtesy of Warner Bros./Max.

Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul, Gregory Orr’s documentary on his grandfather, gets the full 4K update as the film makes its TCM premiere. The film includes new footage and soundtrack.

Say what you will about Jack Warner as a person and a producer but the Warner grandchildren know how to make a documentary. Orr preceded cousin Cass Sperling by over a decade with the original 1993 documentary. If you’re a fan of the studio, this is sure to be an insightful documentary. I’ve read quite a pair of books on the Warner Brothers during the pandemic but I took in every minute of this documentary. Would I have loved to have seen some things explored in-depth? Oh, for sure. However, this documentary focuses on just one of the Warners so we’re seeing the studio through his lens and those who knew him.

Where biographies can devote pages and pages to a subject, the film only spends so much time before moving on. One could probably make an entire documentary about Jack Warner Jr.’s relationship with his father. In fact, I couldn’t help but tear up when he mentions not being able to see his father in his final days. Similarly, the elder Jack Warner was vacationing in France when Harry died in the late 1950s. There’s an alternate universe where Sam Warner lives and the entire studio history might be different. After Sam’s death, it meant Albert Warner being the only one to break up a fight.

Overall, Gregory Orr does a solid job with the documentary. He spends just the right amount of time on the Warners leaving Poland because of antisemitism. If you read about any of Hollywood’s founding studio moguls, almost all of them have a similar story. Antisemitism and the search for a better life is almost always the reason why they came to the US. They made their way to the US, then Canada, and finally, Ohio. From there, everything would come together for the four Warner brothers.

Orr weaves in a number of film clips in between interviews with family, friends, and those who knew Jack Warner in some capacity. In some instances, the clips are tied into something someone was saying. There are a number of minutes focusing on what led to Jack Warner leaving the studio. He may have been the youngest of the founding moguls but age was catching up. It wasn’t health or anything but it was the transition from Hollywood’s Golden Age to New Hollywood. New Hollywood was all about the corporations. Jack may have regretted the sale to Seven Arts but he wasn’t getting any younger.

Warner Bros. did their part during World War II. Obviously, they made the pro-allies films like Mission to Moscow that would come back to bite them on their tuchas during the HUAC hearings. It was one of the darkest periods in America and blacklisted a number of fine filmmakers and talent. But in the short term, the studio could take the credit for some 150,000 enlistments following the release of Winning Your Wings. Hey, it doesn’t hurt with James Stewart being front and center!

Speaking of the war, the film briefly touches on what led the studio to produce Confessions of a Nazi Spy. They were the only studio with guts to take the fight against the Nazis to the big screen. No other studio would risk the European market. Funny enough, Orr’s father appeared in The Mortal Storm, which got MGM banned from Germany. All sorts of message movies were put out by the studio in the lead up to the war. But again, the studio’s overall history is not the main focus of the film. It only plays a part.

Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul is as much a documentary on the studio’s early years as it is on the producer himself.

NARRATOR: Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
FEATURING: Lina Basquette, Rudy Behlmer, Patt Buttram, Owen Crump, Rudi Fehr, Neal Gabler, Aljean Harmetz, Shirley Jones, Sheila MacRae, William T. Orr, Jackie Park, Gil Perkins, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Howard, Bill Schaefer, Vince Sherman, Sarah Shinn, Cass Sperling, Jack Warner Jr., Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

TCM will broadcast Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul on April 2, 2023 at 9:45 PM ET and April 10 at 11:15 AM ET. Vision Films will release the film on Digital/VOD on May 9, 2023. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.