Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Warner and low costs

From: William Harker (
Date: 17 Nov 2006

As I initiated this discussion, here are some quotes I have dug up from various sources (I'm writing a book on a copyright infringement lawsuit involving Warner Brothers, Knopf, CBS, Dashiell Hammett and others in the late 1940s/early 1950s). These have nothing to do with what I am writing except as a bit of background I have found.

Billy Wilder: "The had different kinds of ambitions and different methods of achieving them. Warner Brothers, let us say, was a little tougher on its writers. You had to clock in. Not at Paramount. Not at MGM I came. I went. But Harry Warner would go around and kill the lights in the toilets because that was the kind of boss he was." (An Empire of Their Own, Neal Gabler, p. 189)

In the same book, a Warner Brothers executive, Milton Sperling, is quoted: "MGM was a studio that spent. It was a studio of white telephones. Warners had black telephones." (p. 189)

Gabler adds the economizing is what made the style. "Warners' pictures were blunt and tough and fast. Their miseen-scene was flat and cold; their visual cadences clipped. One producer remembers cutting individual frames of film from each scene to quicken the pace." (p. 190)

As a result, Warners' went after stories, not stars. The Warners' in-house slogan was "t - t - t: timely, topical, and not typical."

Quote from Cagney: "It seemed as if the Warner boys were confusing their actors with their racehorses. The pace was incredible. I think I did about six pictures in the first forty weeks...This kind of pressure the studio put on us because they wanted to get the thing done as cheaply as possible. At times, we started at nine in the morning and worked straight through to the next morning." (p. 191)

Douglas Gomery in The Hollywood Studio System writes, "Harry Warner ran a low-cost operation, and stars hated to work for him because of his penny-pinching." He notes the only three Warners' stars in the top 25 salaries in the late 1930s to early 1940s were Cagney, Bette Davis and Bogart. Gomery continues, "Harry Warner had a simple vision. He sought a cut-rate movie factory, which would produce the required number of features and shorts for Warners' theatres each year. Warners operated on a volume basis, trying to make a small profit on every film." (p. 131)

Ethan Mordden in _The Hollywood Studios_ writes, "No wonder Cagney lived in a permanent state of war with his studio. No other lot remotely approached Warners' record for disciplining and even suing its own top breadwinners." (p. 244)

One of the reasons Jack Warner was pleased with the third adaptation of The Maltese Falcon (by Huston) is that it finished two days early and $54,000 under budget.

Bill Harker

At 12:38 AM 11/17/2006 +0000, you wrote:

>I am not sure that those films were that cheap. I remember that years
>ago Cagney was asked about "cheapness" in an interview. He said that
>they didn't squander money but that he, Robinson, Bogart and the rest
>of the boys did pretty well for themselves. Of course, they didn't
>make the kind of money that is (mostly) wasted nowadays on stars. I
>can't imagine that a movie like White Heat was made on the cheap. It
>doesn't look cheap. Neither does D.O.A. look or feel cheap. The
>cinematography was almost uniformly excellent: it is a character in
>this whole genre.

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