What’s there is cherce: the best of George Cukor

I don’t know if Hollywood producers intended the “women’s director” as a vulgar allusion to George Cukor’s homosexuality, but they appreciate the reliable box office and mantel of Academy Awards his actors earned. A creature of the industry whose warmth and erudition were legend, Cukor seemed to make no enemies (unless you count the fictional James Whale in Gods and Monsters). Only Orson Welles might’ve organized the party responsible for one of my favorite photos ever, in which Luis Buñuel is feted by colleagues he barely worked with (Hitchcock, tipsy, kept asking Don Luis about Tristana’s leg, one master appreciating another). Gavin Lambert’s booklength interview is an essential read for how a classic Hollywood director functioned in the system.

But back to those performances. Coaxing career-high work from Garbo, Hepburn, Judy Garland. He directed part of Gone of the Wind and when fired he kept instructing Vivian Leigh. I’ve written about the beautiful intimacy achieved in Holiday; the movie glows. I can say the same about Pat and Mike, the best and least condescending of the Hepburn/Tracy pictures (apologies to Adam’s Rib fans; I’d prefer a whole film about Judy Holliday’s character). I’m less fond of The Philadelphia Story, which spends most of its running time tying Hepburn to the pillory and inviting a host of actors to fling mud at her. Damned if the thing doesn’t work (Pauline Kael: Cukor “never so heartlessly sure of himself”). Just before and after the implacable My Fair Lady (for which he won his only directing Oscar) he made two not bad comedy dramas (The Chapman Report, Rich and Famous) revered by gay men, who for once showed estimable taste.

1. Holiday
2. A Star is Born
3. Camille
4. Gaslight
5. Little Women
6. The Philadelphia Story
7. Pat and Mike
8. Sylvia Scarlett
9. The Marrying Kind
10. The Chapman Report

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