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The George Cukor File - Part 2

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by Peter Bogdanovich
December 9, 2013 4:40 PM
2 Comments
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And we continue going through the George Cukor-directed pictures in my 1952-1970 card-file of ratings and comments on the movies I saw during that very formative 19-year period.



LES GIRLS (1957; d: George Cukor).

1957: Good* (Overly slick, but pleasantly elaborate musical comedy about three different versions of the same story: a song-and-dance act (three girls and a guy). Tongue-in-cheek, and generally very enjoyable.)

Added 1962: (Very good* would be more accurate: Cukor's use of color and CinemaScope is more dazzling than I've seen him do since A Star is Born [see Cukor File-Part 1]. This is a complete delight: [Gene] Kelly and Kay Kendall are particularly charming and funny.)

WILD IS THE WIND (1957; d: George Cukor).

1958: (Although [Anthony] Quinn and [Tony] Franciosa and especially [Anna] Magnani act with skill and conviction, the movie remains rather shallow, even a bit pretentious, which is mainly the script's fault: it is slick, typical and has a decidedly Hollywood gloss.)

Added 1965: Very good* (This is a fine Cukor film; exquisitely, tastefully handled triangle, sensitively done, with a great feeling for the kind of peasant folk that it's about. It is exceptionally well acted, and the script is not slick, but quite honest and full of insight; it is the direction that is slick, but in the best sense of the word.)

ROMEO AND JULIET (1936; d: George Cukor).

1959: (Dated, stagey Shakespeare adaptation, with a delightful bravura performance by John Barrymore as Mercutio. Elaborate [Irving G.] Thalberg production, with [Norma] Shearer and [Leslie] Howard both too old for the young lovers; not at all a good example of Cukor's talent and skill.)


HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS (1960; d: George Cukor).

1960: (An off-beat western about a traveling group of actors and their adventures in Cheyenne and Bonanza: strange, sometimes awkward, but beautifully color-photographed, designed, well acted, filled with period atmosphere. Cukor's sophisticated personality is everywhere in evidence.)

Added 1967: Excellent (An absolute tour-de-force of style, decor, mood and period flavor --- filled with a deep and delightful sense of theatre people, their glories and their folly. [Sophia] Loren, [Anthony] Quinn and the entire cast give flawless performances, and Cukor brings it all off with sometimes thrilling dispatch; memorable.)

SONG WITHOUT END (1960; d: George Cukor, Charles Vidor).

1960: Fair (Tasteful, superbly color-photographed, and for the most part interesting bio-pic of Franz Liszt; some nice acting, good music, and typically smooth Cukor technique --- he took over when [Charles] Vidor died while the picture was in production.)

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940; d: George Cukor).

1961: Excellent (Sharp, sophisticated, brilliantly acted and smoothly directed high comedy based on the play about a spoiled society girl who can't decide whether to remarry or marry her former husband, and the reporter who helps her make up her mind. Superb performances by Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and typically exquisite, subtle Cukor direction.)

Added 1963: (Not so much a comedy as an often serious look at high society and its people; truly brilliant in every way, though I prefer Cukor's Holiday).

Added 2013: While I still enjoy all the performances in this picture, I don't really like the intentions of the script, which were to dethrone and demystify the goddess Hepburn had become in the 30s. She is blamed for her own divorce, even though her husband was an alcoholic, as well as blamed for her father's philandering! Holiday, with the same two leads, the same writer and the same director, is an infinitely better movie. But this one is much more famous, unfortunately.

LITTLE WOMEN (1933; d: George Cukor).

1961: Excellent (Impeccably directed, written and played adaptation of [Louisa May] Alcott's novel about a family of daughters in New England, during and after the Civil War; moving, often touching, amusing, deeply human.)

Added 1968: (A lovely and beautifully directed movie; the first half is flawless, and the last quarter is fine, but the middle part, with [Katharine] Hepburn and [Paul] Lukas in the city, is not as successful; nevertheless, it is a remarkable, terribly poignant and enduring achievement.)

WINGED VICTORY (1944; d: George Cukor).

1961: Excellent (An outstanding propaganda picture, superbly directed by Cukor, showing his amazing versatility of style in this almost documentary-type war film about the training of pilots, flight engineers, navigators, during the Second World War. Expertly acted by a then-unknown (now all-star) cast, brilliantly edited --- sound track as well --- a memorable, often moving, thoroughly exciting piece of work.)

GASLIGHT (1944; d: George Cukor).

1961: Excellent (Somber, subtle, brilliantly acted by Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, beautifully directed and written period thriller about a mysterious marriage and an evil man who attempts to drive his wife insane. Cukor's smooth, exquisite style, his superb sense of atmosphere and period, deceptively simple camerawork, and intelligent, tasteful personality is particularly well suited to this fascinating, vintage melodrama.)

Added 2013: The rating should probably be Exceptional, as this is one of Cukor's masterworks: a merciless, painfully intense story of mental abuse, giving rise to the common usage of "to gaslight someone" meaning to drive them crazy with falsehoods and selfish manipulation. Boyer and Bergman are absolutely superb: movie acting at its best, almost a commonplace with Cukor.

KEEPER OF THE FLAME (1942; d: George Cukor).

1961: Very good- (Obviously and clearly influenced by [Orson] Welles' Citizen Kane, this picture is effective and expertly done in its own right --- about a reporter who uncovers the fascist truth about a great American patriot after the man's death. Excellently acted by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, somewhat contrived in the writing, but very well photographed and directed by Cukor. A powerful piece of work, handled with the director's usual simplicity and graceful competence.)

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2 Comments

  • Blake Lucas | December 15, 2013 2:13 PMReply

    Just to say I especially enjoyed reading your strongly positive take on "Heller in Pink Tights"--your added 1967 note describes the wonderful qualities of this movie perfectly for me so I don't really have anything to add. But I just want to call attention to how this one shows off the great flexibility of the Western in its best years. This was Cukor's only Western--and the genre is far from his usual ones, but with its main subject of theatre folk out West, he so easily and comfortably makes the genre his own--it's so at one with his body of work, rich, delightful, stylistically imaginative and also completely satisfying as a Western.

  • Gerard Butler | December 9, 2013 5:18 PMReply

    Great blog.

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