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MGM vs. Warner Bros.


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Several weeks ago, there were many interesting discussions about favorite actors (Grant vs. Stewart) and actresses (Davis vs. Crawford) from the Classic Film years. The main difference from that era and today was the existence of the studio system then vs. now, particularly since (at that time) they owned their own theatres, such that audiences identified with the studio brand names in much the same way that we identified with the "big three" TV channels in recent years. I don't know about you, but I don't really notice (or care) what studio makes which films today, except Pixar and maybe Disney (though this is difficult given the many brands within their family).

 

Of course, the most obvious result of the studio system and what made their films so identifiable, then vs. now, was due to the fact that most of the major actors/actresses were signed to long term contracts with a particular studio. Therefore, one can easily identify a film as being a Warner Bros. product because Bette Davis is starring in it. However, there were exceptions, and some great films resulted, when these actors/actresses were loaned out (even traded like chattel) by the studio moguls.

 

Realizing that the studio system's voting policies corrupted some of the results, particularly in the early years, MGM dominated Warner Bros. when it came to Academy Award Best Picture winners (8 to 2) through 1959. FYI, I didn't count GWTW in MGM's total.

 

However, after reviewing two books which I recently acquired (The MGM Story & The Warner Bros. Story), I have to say that I'd cast my vote for Warner Bros. as the producer of the best movies in the 30's, 40's and 50's.

 

What about you? Which studio do you think made the best films in the classic movie era, MGM (which boasted more stars than the heavens) or Warner Bros.?

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I'd have to go with M.G.M. simply because more of my favorite movies were made by them, and I've always been more interested in the history of that studio. But I have to say, I love the Warners' gangster films, and the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 30's. And most of Bette Davis' and Errol Flynn's movies were top-notch, and could hold their own against any of M.G.M's movies. But there's just something about M.G.M. - they just did it better than anyone else - no other studio had the kind of polish and class that M.G.M. had, and added to each of their movies. And I think that Louis B. Mayer was a good mogul in spite of some of the things that have been said about him, and was very wise in many of the decisions that he made. He was the one who insisted that each movie had "class" and M.G.M. certainly lived up to that.

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I agree movie joe with you back in those days MGM rocked

it was a family of stars and the machinery of MGM unique

when L.B. Mayer was boss he was the "Daddy" the head of

the family and that was that!..........

But when Dory Sherry took over as boss MGM went down hill

he knew financing from what i've read but didn't know how

to lead or a thing about movies at all. This in turn now

caused Warner Brothers to shine on MGM's coattails

What does everyone think?........

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Interesting topic, and a difficult one to respond to. I don't want to cop out by saying, "apples and oranges", but so much of what came out of these major studios did rely on public taste, including mine, during those years.

 

Path, if it wouldn't be a major project, would it be possible for you to compile a "fairly good" listing of what you (I trust you to know) would say are the best-known films produced by each studio (MGM and Warner's) so that we can get a feel for what each was "predominantly" putting out during the 30's, 40', and early 50's? Without the coffee table books to refer to, maybe this would help. Or, because you do have the books to guide you, perhaps you could tell us exactly why you would choose Warner's. Thanks a bunch! :) ML

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...but if we're talkin' 'bout the Golden Age, then I'm wholeheartedly goin' w/MGM!

 

Now, I don't mean to be a whiner, but I think MGM shoulda been put up against Paramount instead of WB.

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What an interesting topic, Path! Of course, this is one of those topics that's pretty subjective, and therefore my opinion's worth about 2 cents as much as everyone elses.

 

To me, each studio had a distinctive "personality", if you can say that about a corporation. When I think of MGM, the phrase "more stars than there are in heaven" comes to mind, along with glorious production values, reflecting larger budgets and the ability to keep the finest artist and craftsmen on staff. Their films and iconic stars seemed to reflect a glamourous, dreamlike view of individuals, America and the world--and often seemed rooted in a rather conservative, small town, 19th century world with a strong streak of Anglophilia thrown in. According to Neal Gabler's excellent "An Empire of Their Own", these values also reflected good business sense, an immigrant generation's desire to fit into their new society by adopting a nostalgia for an America they longed for, and a visionary recognition of the power of the relatively new medium to enable a hardworking populace to dream and escape reality--if only for an hour and a half at a time. This combination of perfectionism and glamour produced masterpieces of entertainment such as "Grand Hotel", "Mutiny on the Bounty", "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Adam's Rib", among many others, but it also led to some airless, dead-on-arrival Joan Crawford and Lana Turner vehicles such "The Bride Wore Red", and "Somewhere I'll Find You". For the most part it worked beautifully, however and the ability to lose oneself in such a movie experience still resonates to this day. In some ways, MGM movies seemed to have a less hectic, and more comfortably prosperous air. (I've often longed to live in one of those glorious "typical" homes found in MGM movies, such as the one seen in a relatively small film, "The Secret Heart". I bet moviegoers of the time felt a pang for such an idyllic abode as well.).Of course, amid this glossy generalization, there were also interesting anomalies such as Fritz Lang's "Fury".

 

Warner Brothers' pictures, on the other hand, seem to bounce with physical energy, grittiness and bubble over with emotion at times, and maybe with a little too recently ripped-from-the-headlines stories. They too were designed for a hardworking, often recently emigrated audience, but they didn't just ask consumers to worship their stars, they gave them people to identify with, often in settings they recognized firsthand. The brashly brilliant exploitation of often topical genre films such as urban stories, especially gangster movies, such as "Public Enemy" and "Little Caesar", women's pictures like "Dark Victory", and even swashbucklers along the lines of "Captain Blood" by Warner Bros. were filled with a reportery company of fast moving and talking, usually urban, (even there westerns seem to populated by native New Yorkers!), and often unapologetically ethnic characters. In the early days of the studio the technological innovations such as sound and the emphasis on stories over production values were not really choices, but necessary to avoid receivership, serve their target audience on an ongoing basis, and eventually make Warners a successful operation. (A funny example of this lack of production values can be seen in an early, well written, and brilliantly acted WB production, "Five Star Final"(1931), includes a scene in which a door is slammed. Unfortunately, the "wall" adjacent to the door, also shivers with the vibration of the slamming of the entry, and is clearly made of canvas or the cheapest flat material available).

 

BTW, were there ever any quiet Warner Brothers movies? I always think of the ubiquitous, often lovely and sometimes bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold when I think of WB's flicks.

 

One other significant thread runs through Warner Brothers movies--whether in 12th century England in "The Adventures or Robin Hood", 19th century Mexico in "Juarez" or a contemporary setting as in "Now, Voyager" or "Mildred Pierce"--the characters were usually recognizable human beings struggling to achieve a place in an often unjust, harsh world. The powerful strain of social justice, rooting for the underdog, some broad goodhumor, and casts that included stars like Cagney, Muni and Davis whom the audience could identify with rather than simply worship added up to some dynamic entertainment, that still moves and amuses me. This potent mixture, despite the grinding out of some dogs like "Anthony Adverse", leads me to have to vote for Warners over MGM. Sorry to have rambled on so, but this topic really made me think, and it's a very tough choice.

 

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Gee, thanks, Brackenhe, but glancing back over what I dashed off yesterday, I must apologize for all the typos--that's what I get for trying to post thoughts quickly in between spring cleaning tasks!

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classicsfan, you caught me with my pants down;-) Actually, I was planning on including this in the thread if not the initial note, depending upon the feedback. I was just too lazy, in a hurry I guess, to post what I had before giving a list of films from each.

 

Of course, moira did an EXCELLENT job of giving some examples and style differences already, but I did compile a list of some films from the 30's to share:

 

MGM vs. Warner Bros.

1931 - The Champ, Emma, Possessed vs. Little Caesar, The Public Enemy

1932 - Grand Hotel & Red Dust vs. I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

1933 - Dinner for Eight, Bombshell, Queen Christina vs. 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade

1934 - The Merry Widow, The Thin Man vs. Jimmy the Gent;-)

1935 - Mutiny on the Bounty, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities vs. Bordertown, Captain Blood, Dangerous

1936 - The Great Ziegfeld, Fury, Libeled Lady, San Francisco, Camille vs. The Story of Louis Pasteur, The Petrified Forest, Anthony Adverse, The Charge of the Light Brigade

1937 - Captains Courageous, The Good Earth, Topper vs. The Life of Emile Zola, The Prince and the Pauper, Kid Galahad

1938 - Boys Town, The Citadel, Three Comrades vs. Jezebel, Angels with Dirty Faces, Four Daughters, The Dawn Patrol

1939 - The Women, Ninotchka, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Wizard of Oz, The Shop Around the Corner vs. Dark Victory, Dodge City, Juarez, The Old Maid, Invisible Stripes, The Roaring Twenties

 

MGM's dominance seems to turn in the latter half of this century, IMO. In the next decade, with Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis, I think Warner Bros. starts to dominate the 40's.

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Hey, I had some time today;-) Of course, these choices are highly personal ... meaning, you may not like them and/or I may have left out several great films which I either haven't seen or don't think are representative of the studios at the time. For example, I had to keep from including EVERY Bette Davis film;-)

 

In any case, here are the 40's

 

MGM vs. Warner Bros.

1940 - Pride and Prejudice, The Philadelphia Story, The Mortal Storm vs. They Drive By Night, Knute Rockne-All American, The Sea Hawk, The Letter, All This and Heaven Too

1941 - Blossoms in the Dust, Woman of the Year vs. High Sierra, Meet John Doe, Sergeant York, The Maltese Falcon, One Foot in Heaven

1942 - Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest vs. The Man Who Came to Dinner, Kings Row, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Gentleman Jim, Now Voyager

1943 - The Human Comedy, Madame Curie, Cabin in the Sky vs. Casablanca, Watch on the Rhine

1944 - Meet Me in St. Louis, Gaslight, National Velvet vs. Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr. Skeffinton

1945 - Anchors Aweigh, The Picture of Dorain Gray, They Were Expendable vs. To Have and Have Not, Mildred Pierce, The Corn is Green

1946 - The Yearling, The Postman Always Rings Twice vs. Of Human Bondage, The Big Sleep, Humoresque

1947 - ??? vs. Life With Father, Dark Passage

1948 - Force of Evil, The Search, State of the Union, Easter Parade vs. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Johnny Belinda, Key Largo

1949 - Battleground, On the Town, Madame Bovary, Adam's Rib vs. White Heat

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And finally, here are the 50's. Continuing their trend in the latter half of the 40's, MGM held it's own and continued this throughout the 50's, especially when it came to producing (dominant) Oscar Best Picture Winners:

 

1950 - Father of the Bride, King Solomon's Mines, The Asphalt Jungle vs. The Flame and the Arrow?

1951 - An American in Paris, Quo Vadis vs. Strangers on a Train, A Streetcar Named Desire

1952 - Singin' in the Rain, Pat and Mike, Scaramouche, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Naked Spur, Ivanhoe vs. ???

1953 - Julius Caesar, Mogambo? vs. House of Wax

1954 - Seven Bridges for Seven Brothers, Executive Suite vs. Dial M for Murder, A Star is Born (Judy Garland/James Mason version), The High and the Mighty

1955 - The Blackboard Jungle, Love Me or Leave Me, Guys and Dolls vs. Bad Day at Black Rock, East of Eden, Mister Roberts, Rebel Without a Cause

1956 - Lust for Life, The Catered Affair, Forbidden Planet, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Edge of the City vs. The Searchers, Baby Doll, Moby Dick, Giant

1957 - Jailhouse Rock? vs. A Face in the Crowd, Sayonara, The Pajama Game, The Spirit of St. Louis

1958 - Gigi, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof vs. Auntie Mame, Indiscreet, Damn Yankees

1959 - Ben-Hur, North by Northwest vs. The Nun's Story, Rio Bravo

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path, good topic! moira, great response because you wonderfully expressed the major differences between MGM and Warners. It's exactly the way I see it. I loved the MGM movies of the early 30s--like "Grand Hotel," "Dinner at Eight," the Garbo and Shearer movies and those late 30s musicals, like "Born to Dance." Their product was glossy, fantasy like and sheer escapism. Warners, though, had that great juice flowing through their sharply edited movies. Producer Hal Wallis said that Jack Warner would actually go into the editing room, whip out a razor blade, and cut frames from each scene of all the movies so they'd move faster. Warners' great composers also made their movies unforgettable. I can't think of a Warners movie in the 40s without Max Steiner or Eric Wolfgang Korngold raising the intensity level to an explosive high. Warners Stars have endured so long because their scripts and productions were grounded in reality, while still receiving the typical big studio gloss. Warners also didn't shy away from controversy. Just look at the l949 King Vidor masterpiece, "Beyond the Forest" with Bette Davis and see what this movie gets away with, despite that stringent censor board. But you know what--I watch my Universal favorites more than I do any other studio. My life would be so much duller if I didn't have those great Universal monster classics and their sequels, along with the dazzling Deanna Durbin musicals. And I don't want to forget the great Republic cliffhangers from the late thirties and early 40s. Just check out Republic's l943 classic serial, "G-Men vs. the Black Dragon" to see what a Saturday afternoon at the Bijou must have been like.

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Although I enjoyed many of the musicals and great books to the screen from MGM I will choose Warner Brothers.

Moira helped to make up my mind with her fine analysis of both studios and the impressive listing of motion pictures from path.

I recall when I was a kid I knew I was in for a treat when the movie began with the WB shield.

 

Mongo

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Moira - I was very impressed with your reply - you really summed up each studio perfectly.

 

All of us being classic movie fans, it's really too difficult to pick one studio over the other, since each one had they're own style but were always equally entertaining. Personally I'd still pick M.G.M., but I can't ignore the entertainment that Warners' films give me - as much as I love the sophistication and class of M.G.M.'s movies, I love the gritty reality of Warners. We should just be thankful that these two studios each carved out their own niche in the movie world - thank goodness they didn't try to one up each other. Both of them deserve equal praise.

 

I remember once when I met Gloria DeHaven - I was telling her how much I enjoyed the M.G.M. musicals that she was in, and how much I love M.G.M's films in general, and she said that she enjoys the Warner Brothers movies of the 30's - especially the gangster movies, and the Busby Berkeley musicals. And of course I agreed with her since I love those movies too - but here's a star of M.G.M. who admittedly enjoys Warner's movies more - so it goes to show that in spite of their grittiness, and even poor production values, their films are still highly entertaining, so much so that a star of M.G.M. prefers them.

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Moviejoe, it's funny you should mention Ms. DeHaven's admiration for Warners' musicals as well as their gangster flicks of the '30s. MGM's musicals from that era--the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies such as "Babes in Arms", producer Arthur Freed's unit cranking out phenomenal work such as "Meet Me in St. Louis", "An American in Paris" and the sublime "The Bandwagon", Gene Kelly's contributions to dance and more--despite my vote for Warner's, I'd have to give the laurel for musicals to MGM. Busby Berkeley's musicals,anything Cagney, Blondell or a visitor from MGM, Ann Sothern, did at Warners, (see her in "April Showers" sometime for a real treat), is highly entertaining and always sprightly, unpretentious fare, but, personally, not the same quality as the MGM product at its best.

 

Animation, outside of Disney, is another area in which Warners' created innovative work and outshone MGM, often brilliantly. Despite alot of talented effort on the part of MGM, Warners pool of cartoon talent, led by Freleng, Avery and Jones just knocks the ball out of the park throughout the golden era. Unlike any other cartoons they were funny, sharp, highly subversive(!), and utilized music sparklingly in such gems as "Rhapsody in Rivets", "The Rabbit of Seville", "What's Opera, Doc?" and "One Froggy Evening". Tom and Jerry and the often beautifully drawn cartoons at Metro just can't compete with this work.

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moira you're right - Warner's just lucked out in getting the perfect combination of talent to create what are really the greatest cartoons of all time - (Personally I enjoy them more than Disney). I don't think that M.G.M. even tried to compete in that area. They were obviously more focused on their live productions. There's just no competition against Warner's in that department.

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Path, I'm late getting back to your thread, and I want to thank you for following-up with your lists for me. Between your fine work, and Moira's input (along with others), this has turned into an outstanding thread! Thanks, all of you!

 

I wish that I could dream up something really "heady" to say concerning who I would actually choose. I'm still unable to. I've even asked myself "which could I do without?" in order to get to a good answer, but this makes it no less impossible for me. I simply could not do without either MGM or Warner Bros. in my diet of good movies! It still depends on what I happen to be in the mood for when I see a movie listed. It might be an MGM movie, or it might be a Warner's movie. Hell, it might even be a Fox or Paramount movie! It just depends on what I want to see...or see again. I can go for months and not be at all interested in seeing "Singin' In The Rain" again...then it's a must see it today, so I'll watch my own DVD of it!

 

What you've all made me realize is that these two major studios produced somewhat "different" kinds of films, but excelled in them, which has left us with a wealth of wonderful movies, that have been carefully preserved. It just doesn't get any better than that.

 

Now, if someone would tell me how RKO, Paramount, 20th. Century Fox, Universal, and UI (who did I miss?) all "differed" concerning their productions, I will really be a happy camper! :) ML

 

 

 

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I've always loved those glorious, Technicolored musical sundae delites from 20th Century Fox during the 40s! They nearly always starred Betty Grable and the color was so rich and glowing and brassy that you nearly needed sunglasses. The one color extravaganza that perfectly shows 20th Century Technicolor at its zenith is 1941's "Moon Over Miami" that starred Betty, Don Ameche, Carole Landis and Robert Cummings. The early location shots of a l941 Miami is stunning with those phenomenal emeralds, crimsons and golds of swimmers, golfers, boaters, dancers! Technicolor consultant Natalie Kalmus battled Daryl Zanuck, studio head, relentlessly over his demand that rich color be used at all times. She wanted artistic, tasteful hues. Zanuck said, no way! He wanted Technicolor as bold and vervy as possible.

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I had no idea that Bette Davis was so insecure that a movie soundtrack threatened her that much! The Loony Toons song "The Merry-go-round Broke Down" could be playing in the background, and Bette would still be in command of the staircase, and also the scene, and most of her directors, too. ;)ML

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Bette Davis especially was insecure in this way in the movie"Dark Victory" in the stairway scene at the end of the movie "It's me or Max you can't have both"!!.....

Bette almost walked off the picture thank god she didn't.

One of my favorite movies of Bette's the others being

"Now Voyager" & "ALL about Eve" and i'm begining to like the movie "Petrified Forest"

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Tcm shows way too much mgm. I'd like to see more paramount, universal, and columbia. And they seem to only show wb and mgm cartoons. Turner enterprises does have a whole lot in their library because over in europe and such they show columbia screen gems over there on their cartoon network. Is there a tcm over there.

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  • 2 years later...

MGM

they had star power

expert workers

and the knowledge

 

who else ever came close to their musicals??

 

if you have judy garland, clarke gable, jean harlow, lana turner.....

how can you not over shine others

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