Ever onward we go through the 49 films George Cukor had a hand in that I saw 1952-1970, and kept cards on, in my file of comments and ratings during those nineteen complicated and important years.
Coincidentally, Manhattan’s Film Society Lincoln Center has just started a comprehensive, 50-film retrospective of Cukor’s work, which runs through January 7, 2014. Titled, very appropriately, “The Discreet Charm of George Cukor“, most of the prints are 35mm., so it’s a great way to see virtually every picture George directed, and they are all worth the time and effort.
DINNER AT EIGHT (1933; d: George Cukor).
1962: Very good (Elegantly, smoothly directed multi-comedy drama about a group of people invited to a dinner and what happens to each of them during the week they anticipate the evening. Superb performances by John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, and fine support from the others, in particular Billie Burke, Lee Tracy, Lionel Barrymore. One of the best pictures of its year, and still a considerable piece of work by today’s standards.)
Added 1966: (Cukor’s subtle camera and brilliant talent for business, pacing, timing — together with his exceptional cast — keep this from being in any way dated and stiff.)
Added 2013: In trying to compile a list of the best American talkies year by year, I found that Dinner at Eight ends up either in first position for 1933, or second at least. So the rating should more correctly be Excellent. Beery & Harlow are particularly funny in their constant-argument scenes, and John Barrymore is simply superb as a fading matinee idol. Overall, this is a very memorable picture, and probably Cukor’s first masterwork.
EDWARD, MY SON (1949; d: George Cukor).
1962: Good* (Theatrical, but nonetheless very well acted and directed drama about a tough self-made man, his rise and fall and the ruination of his son through his indulgence and lack of discipline; written by Robert Morley as a vehicle for himself, it suffers somewhat from the non-British casting of Spencer Tracy; but Cukor’s direction is as smooth and fluid as ever, so that the basic staginess of the story is lost under his subtle, tasteful guidance. This is perhaps not among his best projects, but it is effectively done, very well photographed, modulated.)
HER CARDBOARD LOVER (1942; d: George Cukor).
1962: Good* (This is a very funny little comedy of manners, done in Cukor’s smooth, graceful style; everything is fine except Norma Shearer (whose last movie this was) in a part that would have been ideal for someone like Carole Lombard or Katharine Hepburn. And Cary Grant or James Stewart would have been better than Robert Taylor for the title role. George Sanders is perfect, however, and Cukor’s sharp sense of business and keen technique makes up for the inadequacies of the acting.)
THE CHAPMAN REPORT (1962; d: George Cukor).
1962: Good (The script — about a sex-mores survey and how it affects the lives of four women in an upper middle-class community — is not always satisfactory, and the cast, especially the male players, is uneven; but Cukor has managed to get such fine work out of Claire Bloom, Shelley Winters, Glynis Johns, Jane Fonda — in brown, black, tan and white — that the film has a certain command. By no means one of his best, it is still a fine example of what a good director can do with pretty shoddy material.)
THE VIRTUOUS SIN (1930; d: George Cukor and Louis Gasnier).
1962: Fair* (Walter Huston and Kay Francis in a dated, but surprisingly interesting romantic drama about a wife who goes to her husband’s general to plead for his life after a court-martial and ends up in love with the officer. Set in 1914 Russia, it is Cukor’s second film and already shows the taste, sense of timing, and subtle technique that was to make him one of the finest of American directors; this minor work shows great promise, and remains provocative in its own right.)
DAVID COPPERFIELD (THE PERSONAL HISTORY, ADVENTURES, EXPERIENCE AND OBSERVATIONS OF DAVID COPPERFIELD THE YOUNGER)
(1935; d: George Cukor).
1962: Very good- (W.C. Fields, Edna May Oliver, Freddie Bartholomew, Roland Young and everyone else in the cast is splendid in this exquisite and tasteful version of Dickens’ novel. Typically immaculate, graceful direction, artless and easy, full of humor and understanding of the period — typically Cukor in fact.)
Added 1968: (Not as good as Little Women — also in the classic vein — but still a damn good adaptation, very enjoyable and thoroughly engrossing; it has intelligence.)
THE WOMEN (1939; d: George Cukor).
1962: Excellent* (Sharply observed, sophisticated, brilliantly acted and directed, cleverly written satiric comedy-drama about a bunch of giddy, gossipy, miserable women: all-girl cast, not a man in sight. Cukor’s technique has never been more effective, more subtle, or more witty; he is the master of this sort of adult, urbane humor and he does this one with great flair and invention.)
A WOMAN’S FACE (1941; d: George Cukor).
1963: Good (Joan Crawford, Conrad Veidt, Melvyn Douglas in one of Cukor’s lesser pictures, but a nonetheless effective melodrama set in Sweden, about a disfigured woman and what happens when plastic surgery makes her beautiful. Smooth, fascinating, well acted, superbly directed and photographed.)
ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932; d: Ernst Lubitsch; “assisted by” George Cukor).
1963: Very good* (Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in Lubitsch’s thoroughly delightful, fresh and charming musical version of his 1924 social comedy, The Marriage Circle, about some frivolous infidelity among two couples. Gay, risque, irreverent, it is not one of Lubitsch’s masterpieces — The Love Parade is superior in the genre — but a captivating, melodious, completely personal, stylish work nonetheless.)
Added 1966: (The film lies somewhere between the gaiety of Monte Carlo and the wisdom of Angel — a kind of transition piece in itself, wonderfully played, slight in appearance, but with considerable depth beneath the light touch. A special and completely Lubitschian piece.)
Added 2013: No, this is terrific Lubitsch, but I’ve become more of a fan every year since then, so that now virtually any Lubitsch is good enough for me. Cukor began as the director, but Lubitsch wasn’t satisfied with the dailies, so he took over. George was very distressed and insisted on getting some credit for his work, so on most prints Lubitsch’s director credit has an additional “assisted by” mention, though what sort of assistance Lubitsch would have needed is dubious at best. Nevertheless, Cukor got his name on a Lubitsch film in his third year in pictures, which would have meant quite a bit in those days. Still does.
MARILYN (1963; d: Richard Sale, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Joseph Newman, Edmund Goulding, Roy Baker, Henry Koster, Howard Hawks, Henry Hathaway, Jean Negulesco, Otto Preminger, Walter Lang, Billy Wilder, Joshua Logan, George Cukor.)
1963: Poor* (A generally weak compilation of sequences from various Marilyn Monroe films, from 1950 to 1962, distinguished by the Hawks clips [from Monkey Business & Gentlemen Prefer Blondes] and, for a moment, transfixing, in the scenes made for Cukor’s film [Something’s Got to Give], never finished because of her more than untimely death.)