George Cukor, known as the “woman’s director” during Hollywood’s Studio Era, seems to have been a part of a vast number of Hollywood classics. He is, in fact, one of my own favorite directors, a handful of his films sitting in my list of favorites. It’s no wonder then that in my three years co-coordinating films for Indiana University Cinema’s City Lights Film Series I have unintentionally picked two out of the four Cukor films screened at the IU Cinema (the other two were also, one might say tellingly, a part of the City Lights series).Since 2012 the following have been shown: Holiday (1938) in 2012, Born Yesterday (1950) in 2014, Gaslight (1944) in 2015, and The Philadelphia Story (1940) in 2017.
Cukor’s films can be melodramatic, they can be silly, and at times they can also be a bit unsettling. Every once in a while I find myself revisiting the list of films he directed, and more often than not I’m surprised by what I’ve forgotten he touched at some point in his career. Here are a few more Cukor classics that have not (yet) screened at the IU Cinema:
- 1939’s The Women famously features an all-female cast (this included the animals too), as well as an approximately five minute long Technicolor fashion show smack-dab in the middle of the black-and-white film. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, and Paulette Goddard star in this adaptation of a Clare Boothe Luce play. It is fully of witty dialogue, melodrama of the “woman’s film” variety, and even some outrageous brawls.
Around this same time, Cukor took part in the making of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (both released in 1939). In both cases his work went uncredited (it is said that the former’s infamous birth scene was one of the few shot under Cukor’s direction). Rumors also have it that Cukor clashed with GWtW’s leading man, Clark Gable, who supposedly did not like the style of this “woman’s director,” and this discord is thought to be a part of Cukor’s removal from the production team. See film critic Emanuel Levy’s blog post regarding Cukor’s time working on the film.
- 1954’s A Star is Born, a remake of the 1937 version of the same film, stars Judy Garland as a newly rising star and James Mason as another on the decline. A Star is Born was remade again in 1974, and starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson; and in 2018 a fourth remake will be released, directed by Bradley Cooper and starring Cooper alongside Lady Gaga. Nominated for six Oscars, and winning two Golden Globes for Best Actress and Best Actor in the Comedy or Musical category, Cukor’s version seems to have won the most acclaim (at least in terms of award nominations and wins combined). If you see at least one of the four versions, you should see Cukor’s.
- 1964’s My Fair Lady may not be Cukor’s most brilliant film, but it is certainly one that many people know. Adapted from a Broadway musical, which was itself based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Cukor’s film depicts Audrey Hepburn’s Cockney flower vendor transformed into a lady by Rex Harrison’s snobbish phonetics professor. For many a Hollywood or Broadway fan, “the rain in Spain” is sure to sound familiar; but for me, that unforgettable sequence at the race track is what always comes to mind when I think of Cukor’s 1964 musical.
For more information on Cukor, see Turner Classic Movies’ Overview for George Cukor.
The Women will be playing at the IU Cinema on Monday, August 28 at 3 pm as a part of the Monday Matinee Classics series.
This fall, IU Cinema’s City Lights Film Series will be screening three more classic films from the 20th century. These screenings take place on select Saturdays at 3 pm. We’ll see you there!
A PhD Candidate in Communication and Culture, Katherine studies film and media, genre (particularly the Western), gender, and performance. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has been fascinated with film since she could remember.