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‘Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul 30th Anniversary Edition’ (Blu-ray review)

Jack L Warner: The Last Film Mogul is a documentary following the life and career of Jack L. Warner, one of the founding owners of Warner Bros. Studios.

It is a rose-tinted look at the late Warner studio executive, and old Hollywood culture told through the lens of Warner’s grandson, Gregory Orr. This version has been re-edited and updated from the original 1993 cut.

The documentary starts off promising. A good amount of time is given to the Warner family’s origin story. From Warner’s emigration story and their blue-collar roots to Jack and his brothers’ wily business ventures and the creation of Warner Bros Studios, the foundation of a Great American success tale is laid out.

With the success of The Jazz Singer, the first sound film, Warner Bros Studios was catapulted into the studio big leagues.

The documentary never quite had the tooth that I expected it would. The interviews with actors and industry professionals veer just this side of euphemism. Jack L. Warner was known in the industry as being a ruthless, tight-fisted businessman who “loved the ladies.”

The documentary attempts to paint Warner as a man of his time, and a character. However, I’m left feeling that given a nudge, the interviewees would give a different account.

Jack’s son, Jack Warner Jr. seemed to skate around the difficulties with his father, being essentially replaced both in business and affection by William T. Orr, Jack Warner Sr.’s son-in-law. Perhaps being an older man by the time he was interviewed Warner Jr. was taking the high ground. The female actresses, ex-wives, and mistresses interviewed come the closest to revealing a darker side.

By never delving too deeply, the film feels to be a tourist’s view of old Hollywood. We know there and bumps in the road and oil slicks, but Gregory Orr just points them out for the viewer to notice and then avoids them, instead of driving straight through them and seeing how it affects the journey.

To be fair, this was Orr’s first foray into feature-length documentary filmmaking. The subject matter may have been too personal to deep dive into.

Some of the highlights were interviews with Neal Gabler, American Journalist and author of An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.  Gabler’s view on how Warner’s immigrant roots, Jewish upbringing, and beginnings in business shaped the way Warner Bro Studios steered toward gritty stories and aesthetics. His interview early in the documentary raises questions that are never truly pursued by the film. It feels like a missed opportunity.

Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul is a surface look into the old Hollywood glamor. It serves more as an introduction to the culture of the film novice.

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