Film Society of Lincoln Center Salutes Master Director George Cukor in Hit and Classic Laden Retrospective
By: Ellis Nassour
A master director of filmmaking, Oscar-winning director George Cukor, a central figure in Hollywood’s storied Golden Age, is being celebrated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC) with a comprehensive retrospective, The Discreet Charm of George Cukor, through January 7 at two of its Lincoln Center venues: the Walter Reade Theatre and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. This historic overview of the New York-born Cukor [1899-1983] is organized in collaboration with the Locarno Film Festival and multiple film distributors.
The legendary director is one of cinema’s most successful and versatile filmmakers. He was valued above others by Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, and Vivien Leigh [whom he was directing in Gone with the Wind, until fired; and whom he continued to coach]. He mentored them to career-defining performances. Cukor fearlessly tackled multiple genres – musicals, screwball comedy, thrillers, literary and theatrical adaptations, and fantasy. For the majority of his career, he was an M-G-M mainstay.
"George Cukor has been called a woman’s director and an actor’s director," says Dennis Lim, FSLC’s Director of Cinematheque Programming. "While some of his films are now beloved classics, many are overdue for rediscovery. His body of work is far richer and more complex than any one label could suggest."
Cukor arrived in Hollywood at the dawn of the sound age, imported from Broadway to serve as a dialogue director, and worked steadily through the rise and fall of the studio system. His half-century career was astonishing not just for its longevity but also for its consistency. The Discreet Charm of George Cukor covers the entire span of his career, from the early talkie Grumpy (1930) to his final film Rich and Famous (1981).
Highlights from the 1930s include: the adaptation of Ferber and Kaufman’s parody of a theatrical family [read the Barrymores], The Royal Family of Broadway (1930), Ina Claire, Frederick March; Constance Bennett and long forgotten Lowell Sherman, What Price Hollywood? (1932), produced by David O. Selznick, rumored to be the prototype for the original A Star is Born; Ferber and Kaufman’s delicious all-star comedy/drama starring John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Billie Burke, and an unforgettable Marie Dressler [the delivery of her exit line (added to the film by playwright Donald Ogden Stewart) is worth the price of admission], Dinner at Eight, (1933); W.C. Fields headlining David Copperfield (1935); Garbo, never more memorable, Camille (1936); the opulent Romeo and Juliet (1936), the much too old Shearer and Leslie Howard [Barrymore steals the movie as Mercutio]; and Rosalind Russell, Shearer, Joan Crawford, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, and an all-female cast of scenestealers, Anita Loos’ adaptation of Clare Booth Luce’s The Women (1939).
Highlights from the 1940s into the 1960s are: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and young Angela Lansbury, Gaslight (1944); Tracy, as you’ve never seen him, and Deborah Kerr, Edward, My Son (1949); the restored musical remake of A Star is Born (1954), marking the comeback of Oscar-nominated Judy Garland in one of her most memorable roles, opposite James Mason with poignant Arlen/Gershwin songs; Oscar-nominated Italian screen legend Anna Magnani is the perfect foil for Svengali-like Anthony Quinn, but desires Anthony Franciosa, Wild is the Wind (1957); the slapdash musical starring Marilyn Monroe at her radiant best and in one of her best roles, opposite the miscast Yves Montand, Let’s Make Love (1960), with cameos by Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, and Milton Berle; and Audrey Hepburn and Harrison, Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady (1964) by way of Shaw.
Gems in the series are Cukor’s many collaborations with Miss Hepburn -including Little Women (1933), Sylvia Scarlett (1935), The Philadelphia Story (1940); and co-starring Spencer Tracy – Keeper of the Flame (1942), Adam’s Rib (1949), and Pat and Mike (1952); and Miss Holliday, including Born Yesterday (1950) and It Should Happen to You (1954). Actors who won Oscars under Cukor’s direction include James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story; Ronald Colman, A Double Life (1947); and Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady (1964). Cukor also launched the careers of several major stars, including Jack Lemmon.
Among the rarely screened Cukor works screening are A Life of Her Own (1950), starring Lana Turner; Jean Simmons, fleeing her sleepy hometown for an acting career, The Actress (1953), Tracy, from Ruth Gordon’s autobiographical play; Bhowani Junction (1956), stunningly set in India and starring a ravishing Ava Gardner; Travels with My Aunt (1972), adapted from Graham Greene novel, starring a very game Dame Maggie Smith; and The Blue Bird (1976), Cukor’s rare failure, a co-production with the Soviet Union, headlining Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Jane Fonda.
Tickets are $10; $7 for FSLC members, students, and seniors (62+). Cinephiles will want to purchase the Five-4-$25 package. For rundowns of the films, schedules, and showtimes visit www.FilmLinc.com. To view trailers of films in the retrospective, link to FSLC on YouTube. Download the detailed brochure at the website.