Warner Brothers at the Stanford

The four original Warner Brothers fought their way into the Hollywood mainstream in the 1920s. They achieved major studio status when they bet on sound and turned the business topsy turvy. In the 1930s and ’40s, they made a reputation for tough, gutsy, left-leaning crime movies. They also made musicals, swashbucklers, and the occasional western.

From July 13 through October 2, the Stanford will run a 23-week Warner Brothers retrospective. The series includes 67 features, all but one of them in double features. All the films will be in 35mm. I almost wish I lived closer to Palo Alto.

Here are just a few of the highlights:

Gold Diggers of 1933 & 42nd Street (July 13-17): The two best pre-code musicals deal with sex and economic Depression as chorus girls struggle to make a living on Broadway. The amazing Busby Berkeley dance numbers are like nothing you’ve ever seen (and, in reality, couldn’t possibly be performed on a live stage).

Don Juan (July 20-21): This 1926 John Barrymore swashbuckler was the first feature film released with a recorded soundtrack. It’s not a talkie, but a silent film with a recorded rather than live musical score. On a double bill with Other Men’s Women.

The Public Enemy & Little Caesar (July 22-24): These movies made Warners the top home for cinematic gangsters. They also made stars of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Clash of the Wolves & The Jazz Singer (July 29-31): Like the best of movie stars, Rin Tin Tin (an exceptionally charismatic German Shepard) gives a performance that turns a mediocre movie into a fun piece of entertainment. The only truly silent film in the series will be accompanied by Dennis James at the Mighty Wurlitzer organ. The Jazz Singer is arguably the most influential movie ever made. It started the talkie revolution.

The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Flame and the Arrow (August 12-14): What could be more fun than a double bill of my two all-time favorite swashbucklers? First Errol Flynn, and then Burt Lancaster, fight the good fight against Medieval villainy. You can read my full articles on Robin Hood and Flame.

& The Maltese Falcon (September 2-4): Do I have to tell you about these two? I didn’t think so.


Baby Face (September 7-8): Barbara Stanwyck climbs up the corporate ladder by hopping from one bed to another. An entertaining pre-coder that wouldn’t have been possible a year later. Double-billed with Now Voyager, which I should probably see one of these days.

White Heat
& Key Largo (September 14-15): Two of the last and best movies of the classic Warners period. In White Heat, gangster star James Cagney gets to play a full-on psychopath. In Key Largo, Humphrey Bogart faces off Edward G. Robinson as a hurricane hits the Florida Keys.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (September 16-18): Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and Walter Huston prospect for gold in Mexico, only to find that they don’t really trust each other in John Huston’s great adventure about the curse of greed. On a double bill with John Ford’s The Searchers, which many consider the greatest western ever made (I disagree).

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde (September 30-October 2): I was delightfully surprised to see this one on the calendar. The Stanford generally avoids films from the late 60s – especially those that became part of the “New Hollywood.” But this 1967 hit fits in nicely with the early Gangster films from Warners, despite its being a daring and brilliant work of its own time. Double-billed with a 1932 movie called Two Seconds.