Wednesday February 23, 2022
When Warners Sank
“By the time Flamingo Road was released [iin 1949], Warner Bros. was a different studio from the one that had produced Casablanca. There had been a mass exodus of talent. After John Huston wrapped Key Largo in early 1948, he left to make films with the producer Sam Spiegel. Publicly branded by Warner as disloyal, the Epstein twins departed to write a play and freelance. Barbara Stanwyck became upset at being aced out by Patricia Neal to star in The Fountainhead (1949). She opted out of her contract in June 1948. Zachary Scott would star in the appropriately titled One Last Fling before moving on. Sydney Greenstreet made one more picture (1949’s Malaya, at MGM) and then retired because of ill health. Known as the studio’s “Suspension Queen,” Ann Sheridan felt trapped in roles of repetitive mediocrity. After costarring with Errol Flynn in the desultory Silver River (1948), she forked over $35,000 to buy herself out of her contract. Bette Davis would have a final battle royal with Jack Warner, this time over the mogul’s forcing her to star in Beyond the Forest. She finally agreed to do the film, then asked for and received a release from her contract in July 1949.
”The Warner Bros. dynamism that had pioneered sound and the populist style of the studio’s pictures had become increasingly ossified. Jack Warner had become less willing to keep anyone around who didn’t always agree with him. Robert Buckner, the epitome of the company man, remarked on the decline of the studio he loved: 'It began to go downhill. Jack was a fine studio boss as far as the overall picture was concerned, but he was not a good selector of material.… Jack wasn’t buying material that we wanted to make, and he wasn’t listening to suggestions.' Rather than reenlist aboard what he viewed was a sinking ship, Buckner accepted an offer from Universal-International.“
-- from Alan K. Rode's “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film.” Interestingly, his opening time frame—Casablanca to Flamingo Road, or 1942 to 1949—is basically the time period when James Cagney was gone. Cagney left Warners after ”Yankee Doodle“ in '42, returned for ”White Heat" in '49. He returned to a crumbling empire. He must've felt it.