The man Jack Benny said would rather tell a bad joke than make a good movie gets a warm, personal appreciation from his grandson, Gregory Orr, in “Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul.” OK vid item looks a good bet for tube playoff.
Film is partly structured as a personal odyssey by Orr, 39, to come to terms with the memory of a man whose vast estate he would visit as a kid –“a little like visiting royalty.” Orr’s ingenuous, look-at-me approach (which gets in the way after a while) yields high-chutzpah scenes of him driving to the Warner manse and even talking like an interviewee on camera.
Most interesting material is in the first half, where Orr draws on fascinating family photos and other material to show how Jack, the “rebellious,” problem child of the four Warner brothers (the children of first-generation Polish Jewish immigrants), rose to head the studio almost by accident.
The film doesn’t gloss over Warner’s weaknesses — his womanizing, capitulation to the House Un-American Activities Committee and betrayal of brother Harry to become sole head of WB in the 1950s. But with the passage of time, there’s a romantic affection for Warner’s love of playing the mogul, his swashbuckling qualities and sad self-realization after being eased out in 1969 that, without a studio, he was just another nobody in town.
Even WB’s reputation for “squeezing pennies till they shouted” is viewed almost wistfully, with the caveat that it was a cut-price but not a cut-rate studio. As veteran director Vincent Sherman notes, “If you could make a picture at Warner Bros., you could make it anywhere.”
Not much time is spent on individual titles, save those that had a key historical/political place in WB’s development (“The Jazz Singer,””Confessions of a Nazi Spy,””Mission to Moscow”). Best clips are from Warner’s home movies (in color), showing Jack L. relaxing with his family or at play. Tech credits are OK.