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The George Cukor File – Part 5

The George Cukor File - Part 5

And so we bring to a close our look at the pictures George Cukor had a hand in, which I saw 1952-1970, and on which I kept comments and ratings in my film card-file for those nineteen years. George was a master at sophisticated comedies and dramas, a positive genius with actors and actresses, his camera always in the right spot for the performances. He was also a delightful person, with an infectious laugh, and a charming host, with a waspish tongue, very candid, and swore like a sailor. He directed a great number of classic entertainments, including such particular favorites of mine as Holiday, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, Gaslight, It Should Happen to You, The Actress, and The Marrying Kind

GRUMPY (1930; d: George Cukor, Cyril Gardner).

1965: Fair- (Cukor’s first film, a likeable antique vehicle for stage actor Cyril Maude, whose tour-de-force this remains: as a grouchy, always-complaining old man who solves a crime and brings together two youngsters, he does a hundred bits perfected over a few hundred times on stage. Cukor’s contribution is the basic ease of the dialogue scenes, without the declamatory quality of most films in the first two years of sound. Gardner handled the camera, which is undistinguished.)
THE ROYAL FAMILY OF BROADWAY (1931; d: George Cukor, Cyril Gardner).

1965: Very good- (Dated by the years, but still excellently acted and directed, very well written comedy about a famous family of Broadway actors, obviously patterned after the Barrymores. Cukor’s third film, but his first really personal project, centering on the problems of actresses who want to lead a normal life and yet thrive on the theatre. Ina Claire is especially fine, and Fredric March gives an amusing bravura impersonation of John Barrymore.)
ZAZA (1939; d: George Cukor).

1965: Good- (In certain ways a failure, especially in the casting of Claudette Colbert and in elements of Zoe Akins’ script about a traveling singer and her affair with a swell gentleman from Paris, who turns out to be married and have a young daughter. Claudette gives Herbert Marshall up, of course, and bravely goes on to become a great star. But Cukor’s handling of the backstage life of the theatre is adroit and as personal as it is in A Double Life, Les Girls or in The Royal Family of Broadway; and there are many little touches and pieces of business that betray the hand of a master.)

LET’S MAKE LOVE (1960; d: George Cukor).

1965: Fair* (Stylish, nicely directed and acted, rather vapidly written comedy about a French billionaire who joins the cast of an off-Broadway revue company in order to win the affection of one of its girls; some amusing scenes, a generally engrossing quality, but certainly one of Cukor’s lesser projects. Marilyn Monroe, Yves Montand, Tony Randall, Wilfred Hyde-White all do their best, and it is almost, but not quite, enough.)

ADAM’S RIB (1949; d: George Cukor).

1965: Excellent* (Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell are incomparably brilliant in this excellently written, superbly directed comedy about two lawyers, who are married, on opposite sides in an emotional trial involving a wronged woman who took a couple of wild shots at her unfaithful husband and his lady friend; hilarious, subtle, witty and sometimes strangely touching. One of Cukor’s finest projects, done with splendid technique, taste, and an infallible sense of style and a delightful urban personality.)

Added 1968: (An absolute delight from beginning to end.)

Added 2014: This is one of Cukor’s masterworks, and my rating today would be Exceptional. The writing—by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin—is of the highest quality, and the picture makes a wonderful case for the equality of the sexes, without ever being preachy or didactic. The real New York locations are beautifully used, and all of the performances are of the highest quality, but Hepburn and Judy Holliday stand out memorably. A personal favorite of mine, it really should be required viewing for anyone concerned with the battle of the sexes, and we all should be, since it remains the most wide-spread and dangerous war being fought daily across the globe.

WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (1932; d: George Cukor).

1967: Very good* (Among the best inside-Hollywood stories, and the first — and perhaps most honest — of the “Star is Born” pictures, about a director on his way down and an actress on the way up: beautifully directed and acted, with a clever and witty script. Not in the least dated, and very typical of Cukor’s effortless and easy style; one of his most likeable early films.

Added 1969: (Probably Cukor’s first really completely effective work, with some evocative montage sequences by Slavko Vorkapich; uneven, not completely focused script, it has often brilliant dialog and fine performances from Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman, Gregory Ratoff.)

OUR BETTERS (1933; d: George Cukor).

1969: Good (Beautifully acted, impeccably mounted film of [W. Somerset] Maugham’s comedy of manners — terribly clever and witty, with delightful performances from Anita Louise, Gilbert Roland, Constance Bennett, and, in fact, the whole cast; it is really a stage play lovingly recorded, and with some considerable visual grace, but it is not among Cukor’s greatest movies.)

JUSTINE (1969; d: George Cukor, Joseph Strick).

1969: Good (Too much poor Strick footage remains to permit this to be an integrated and personal Cukor work — the cast and script not being his to begin with; but he has done a quite reasonable job of rescuing a project and making a more than acceptable work of it. Anna Karina and Dirk Bogarde are fine and the decor and movement is good, though the editing is rushed and choppy. Like the work as a whole, it has a patchy feeling.)

TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941: d: George Cukor).

1969: Fair* (Garbo and Melvyn Douglas are unbelievably miscast in roles that required Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, but Cukor unflinchingly keeps things boiling against all odds and comes up with a mildly diverting comedy about the incompatibility of a worldly magazine editor and a recluse lady ski instructor. Probably Cukor’s weakest big picture.)

Added 2014: And it ended Greta Garbo’s transcendent career; as Cukor directed her in one of her greatest triumphs in Camille, so he also was the unlucky director of her final film. Nobody suspected it at the time, and she almost came back a few times—Lubitsch and Hitchcock both wanted her during the ’40s, but things never worked out, so this unfortunate unfunny comedy became her swan’s song. At age 35, her extraordinary career was over. Orson Welles was a passionate fan of hers, and was raving about her to me once and, being still a bit pedantic, I agreed but said wasn’t it a pity she had only made two really great films—I was thinking of Camille and Lubitsch’s Ninotchka—and after a few moments, Welles said quietly, “Well, you only need one…”

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