The Women (George Cukor, 1939)
Film Society of Lincoln Center has announced a massive retrospective of a tinseltown legend: The Discreet Charm of George Cukor. The program, presented in collaboration with the Locarno Film Festival, will screen 49 of the Hollywood heavyweight’s films, from the highly lauded to the criminally overlooked. Running from December 13 to January 7, the retrospective is sure to be a welcome holiday gift for any classic film fan.
“George Cukor was a central figure in Hollywood’s storied Golden Age,” said Dennis Lim, the Film Society’s Director of Cinematheque Programming. “But while some of his films are now beloved classics, many are overdue for rediscovery. He has been called a woman’s director, an actor’s director, an expert at literary transposition and theatrical adaptation, and some of his films have been scrutinized for their latent queer content. But his body of work is far richer and more complex than any one of these labels or lenses suggests, as we hope to show with this tribute to one of the medium’s all-time great entertainers.”
Cukor is responsible for some of the most memorable performances of Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, and many others. Highlights of this retrospective include Born Yesterday (1950, for which Judy Holliday won an Oscar), the infectious Tracy/Hepburn comedy Adam’s Rib (1949), the fantastically feisty and fast-paced The Women (1939), the canonical musical My Fair Lady (1964), and the beloved remake of A Star is Born (1954) starring Judy Garland.
Tickets will go on sale November 21, and there will be special holiday discounts! See five films for only $25 with our discount package. Single screening tickets are just $7 for Students and Seniors (62+) as well as Film Society Members, and $10 for the General Public. Check out the full lineup and schedule below, and get ready to go cuckoo for Cukor!
THE ACTRESS (1953) 90 min, 35mm
Cukor filmed this tender, autumnal family comedy from an autobiographical play by the great Ruth Gordon (her last of six collaborations with Cukor). Jean Simmons is radiant as a young woman itching to flee her sleepy New England town for a big-city acting career, but the film ultimately belongs to Spencer Tracy as her reluctant, conflicted father: a beautifully understated study in feuding good intentions. Bathed in a wistful, nostalgic afterglow, THE ACTRESS is a sensitive slice of Americana—with a standout turn from first-time actor Anthony Perkins. “Among Cukor’s least known movies,” said Peter Bogdanovich, “it is also one of his purest.”
Thursday, December 26 at 7:15PM
Saturday, December 28 at 6:30PM
ADAM’S RIB (1949) 101 min, 35mm
In Cukor’s manic, strikingly modern battle of the sexes, feuding lawyer spouses Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy let their domestic power struggles spill over into the public sphere when they end up on opposite sides of a high-profile murder trial. As the film cycles from home to courtroom and back again, it stacks up a series of unforgettable set pieces: Tracy visualizing the trial’s key male players as women, and vice versa; a female circus performer matter-of-factly hoisting Tracy aloft by the feet; even a film-within-a-film that gives Cukor a chance to reflect on his own complicity in the proceedings. More than a classic screwball comedy, ADAM’S RIB is one of Hollywood’s most sophisticated meditations on the gender gap, and a genuinely moving portrait of a marriage on the brink.
Saturday, December 14 at 7:15PM
Monday, December 16 at 1:00PM
BHOWANI JUNCTION (1956) 110 min, 35mm
“It was a different kind of experience for me,” Cukor said of BHOWANI JUNCTION, his adaption of John Masters’ 1954 novel about an Anglo-Indian woman torn between lovers and national allegiances in the midst of de-colonization. “It excited me—and then we had a bad preview.” The film was bluntly re-cut, Ava Gardner’s volatile heroine tamed, and the film’s central political conflict muffled—but what remains is still one of Cukor’s most daring and personal films: an acute portrait of a nation in turmoil, and a pointed statement on Britain’s legacy of oppression.
Saturday, January 4 at 2:00PM & 7:00pm
A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT (1932) 69 min, 35mm
Christmas Eve for the women in the Fairchild family is upset by the unexpected return of the head of the family, after 15 years in a psychiatric institution. His ex-wife leaves with her fiancé, but his daughter breaks off her own engagement to be with him. The screen debut of Katharine Hepburn—“quite unlike anybody I’d ever seen,” in Cukor’s words. “She was born for the movies.” Cukor himself would prove to be a master at bringing out the magnetic quality that later made Hepburn such a great movie personality.
Friday, December 20 at 3:30PM & 9:15PM
THE BLUE BIRD (1976) 99 min, 35mm
Cukor’s unlikely adaptation of the celebrated 1908 Maeterlinck play is a genuine oddity: the first ever American-Soviet co-production; headlined by a trio of great Hollywood actresses (Liz Taylor, Ava Gardner, Jane Fonda), a famous Russian circus performer named Oleg Popov, and members of the Leningrad Kirov Ballet; plagued by production difficulties from language barriers to cast dropouts and inhumane work conditions. Long out of circulation, THE BLUE BIRD is one of the most left-field projects ever made by a major Hollywood filmmaker.
Saturday, December 28 at 2:00PM
BORN YESTERDAY (1950) 103 min, 35mm
Cukor staked out terrain he would later return to in MY FAIR LADY with this adaptation of Garson Kanin’s celebrated Broadway play: an unscrupulous tycoon (Broderick Crawford, in a spot-on caricature of capitalism run boorishly amok) hires a journalist (William Holden) to cultivate his ditsy chorus-girl mistress, but doesn’t expect the two to hit if off so well… Cukor, for his part, nimbly transposed Kanin’s stage-bound action onto a wide slate of Washington landmarks. And Judy Holliday deservedly won her only Oscar for her role as the tough-shelled blonde whose blunt exterior (“I’m stupid and I like it!”) hides surprising depths.
Sunday, December 29 at 3:45PM & 8:30PM
Tuesday, December 31 at 4:45PM
CAMILLE (1936) 109 min, 35mm
Greta Garbo’s magisterial turn as a doomed 19th-century Parisian courtesan in Cukor’s lavish adaptation of Dumas, fils’ The Lady of the Camellias is widely considered one of the all-time great screen performances. The movie revolves around its star’s tossed-off jokes, her sudden displays of passion, her glimmers of coquettishness, her stifled coughing fits, and her final, iconic death scene, but it’s cushioned by some wonderfully effervescent photography and a great deal of attention to period detail. CAMILLE is one of the undisputed triumphs of Hollywood’s Golden Age, a delicate cocktail of, as Cukor later put it by way of Henry James, “champagne and tears.”
Sunday, December 15 at 4:00PM & 8:15PM
Tuesday, December 17 at 1:00PM
THE CHAPMAN REPORT (1962) 125 min, 16mm
For this (very) thinly disguised reflection on the then-still-contentious Kinsey Reports, Cukor cast four brilliant actresses (Jane Fonda, Glynis Johns, Shelley Winters, and Claire Bloom) as a handful of suburban women whose sex lives run the gamut from icy abstemiousness to self-destructive promiscuity. They’re being grilled by Kinsey-like researcher and his assistant (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), with squirm-inducing results. THE CHAPMAN REPORT was arguably the closest Cukor ever got to directly engaging with his own sexual identity on screen. Autobiographical echoes aside, it now stands as a fascinating time capsule of a peculiar moment in sexual history: the nervous, repressed years just before the revolution.
Friday, December 13 at 4:00PM & 9:10PM
THE CORN IS GREEN (1979) 99 min, 35mm
Cukor's second and final film for television is an adaptation of Emlyn Williams's autobiographical play, previously filmed in 1945 with Bette Davis in the lead role. In their final collaboration, Cukor regular Katharine Hepburn stars as the willful schoolteacher Lily C. Moffat, whose efforts to set up a school in a Welsh coal-mining town are met with local opposition. In a reverse-Pygmalion scenario, Moffat sets out to educate one prize pupil and send him to Oxford.
Wednesday, January 1 at 9:00PM
Tuesday, January 7 at 1:30PM
DAVID COPPERFIELD (1935) 130 min, 35mm
Cukor recruited an all-star cast of character actors for his take on Charles Dickens’ sprawling novel: Roland Young, Elizabeth Allen, Lionel Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, and, in a casting coup, legendary comedian W.C. Fields (replacing Charles Laughton as the ever-hopeful clerk Micawber). The result is still deemed one of Hollywood’s finest literary adaptations: in Gavin Lambert’s words, “the truest Dickens film ever made.” It’s a rich, comic, humane panorama of 19th-century British life, featuring a remarkable turn by Fields—who jumped at the chance to finally get lost in a character. With a screenplay by the great British novelist Sir Hugh Walpole.
Saturday, December 21 at 3:30PM & 8:45PM
DINNER AT EIGHT (1933) 111 min, 35mm
“I’m going to be a lady if it kills me.” This dark, embittered comedy of manners was shot in a flurry of just over two weeks with a stellar cast: Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, Lionel and John Barrymore, and the great Jean Harlow (four years before her death at 26). They’ve all been invited to dinner by Billie Burke’s wannabe socialite, exposing a cross-section of affairs, deceptions, failures, and addictions. An unsparing send-up of upper-class pretentions and a fascinating window into the anxieties—social and economic—of mid-Depression America, DINNER AT EIGHT teeters masterfully between stone-faced comedy and tragic farce.
Monday, December 23 at 4:00PM & 9:00PM
A DOUBLE LIFE (1947) 104 min, 35mm
Cukor’s first collaboration with screenwriters Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon is an incandescent, psychologically astute record of an actor slowly cracking up. Ronald Colman, in his only Oscar-winning performance, plays a beloved thespian whose Othello complex ultimately drives him to madness and murder. The film is a study in contrasts: light versus dark, aggression versus restraint, the rarified space of the theater versus the late-night diners of a B-movie melodrama, and, of course, performance versus reality—one of Cukor’s career-long obsessions.
Tuesday, December 24 at 2:00PM & 6:30PM
EDWARD, MY SON (1949) 112 min, 35mm
This adaptation of Robert Morley and Noel Langley’s 1947 Broadway play is one of Cukor’s bleakest films: a postwar noir taking in, among other things, arson, infidelity, alcoholism, blackmail, multiple suicides, corrupt business dealings, and spousal neglect. EDWARD, MY SON is an essential showcase for Cukor’s gift at dramatic atmosphere, and one of the director’s few films to center on a male protagonist—an amoral crook of a businessman played with chilly malevolence by Spencer Tracy (with Deborah Kerr, fresh from her starring turn in BLACK NARCISSUS, in the role of his long-suffering wife). Dissolute son Edward stays offscreen for the length of the film, but it’s his animating absence that sends the movie spiraling down towards its inevitable conclusion.
Sunday, December 22 at 4:00PM & 8:30PM
GASLIGHT (1944) 114 min, 35mm
A young opera singer haunted by the memory of her aunt’s murder marries a handsome pianist and settles down in her relative’s long-abandoned, overstuffed London mansion, where footsteps echo in the attic, gaslights dim, and secrets come to light… Cukor’s celebrated noir is a deeply ambiguous study of psychological abuse, anchored by a terrific cast (Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her first film role) and suffused with a sense of creeping dread. At its famous last-act reversal of power, GASLIGHT, transforms from a masterful woman-in-trouble melodrama into something much more haunting: a reflection on the origins of emotional violence, marked by a rare degree of sympathy for the abuser as well as the abused.
Tuesday, December 24 at 4:10PM & 8:45PM
GIRLS ABOUT TOWN (1931) 79 min, 35mm
Two girls, out to make their fortune in New York, loving and leaving wealthy businessmen, take a trip on a yacht, where they meet a Michigan millionaire and his young associate. Cukor said: “This was the period of the gold-diggers or playgirls, in reality, whores who charged 50 dollars an evening. Zoë Akins wrote these parts to perfection.”
Wednesday, January 1 at 1:00PM
Thursday, January 2 at 7:45PM
GRUMPY (1930) 74 min, 35mm
Directors: George Cukor & Cyril Gardner
In his country home, an eccentric retired barrister investigates the theft of a diamond brought from South Africa by the fiancé of his granddaughter Virginia. In a web of intrigue and romance, a camellia turns out to be the clue that unmasks the thief and ensures the young girl’s happiness. A remake of the silent film by William C. De Mille of 1923.
Monday, December 30 at 2:00PM & 5:45PM
HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS (1960) 100 min, 35mm
A Western in name only, HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS is an imaginative, formally daring reflection on the relationship between art and life. Sophia Loren plays the star of a theater troupe touring the Old West, with Anthony Quinn as her poker-faced husband and Steve Forrest as her hired-gun object of desire. The result is a warm-blooded romantic comedy packed with teases and deceptions and mutual desires, one of Cukor’s most sexually outré films. But it’s also an aggressively stylized meta-movie in which every onscreen magic trick or optical illusion, every splotch of bright primary color, and every tongue-in-cheek nod to Western genre convention suggests either that the movies are radically divorced from real life, or that life itself is a game—or both.
Friday, January 3 at 2:00PM & 7:00PM
HER CARDBOARD LOVER (1942) 93 min, digibeta
The great Norma Shearer gave her last performance in this adaptation of a 1926 farce by the French playwright Jacques Deval (translated by P.G. Wodehouse!) about a young woman who, in a last-ditch effort to fend off a stubborn ex, hires a man to pose as her new lover. Cukor had directed a production of the play in the mid-1920s, and though there were hiccups aplenty in the transition from stage to screen—the rise of the Legion of Decency, for instance, meant that the ex in question had to be demoted from husband to boyfriend—he nonetheless filled the resulting film with poignant details and graceful comic touches.
Sunday, January 5 at 3:45PM
HOLIDAY (1938) 95 min, 35mm
What is the good life? Cukor’s gracious, delicate comic masterpiece follows an eager young businessman (Cary Grant) with a modest fortune and a drive for adventure as he gets engaged to a society beauty (Doris Nolan), only to fall instead for her vivacious sister (Katharine Hepburn). HOLIDAY was a timely reflection on the ways wealth could allure, stifle, destroy, and protect in 1930s America, but it’s much more besides: a celebration of imaginative play, creativity, and performance; a nuanced study of people caught at motivational and social cross-purposes; and one of the great Hollywood meditations on the nature—and cost—of happiness.
Wednesday, December 18 at 1:00PM, 5:00PM & 9:15PM
IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU (1954) 86 min, 35mm
Jack Lemmon gave his breakthrough performance in IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU, Cukor’s sharp satire of modern celebrity culture. The great Judy Holliday plays an out-of-work young model caught up in a scheme to (literally) “make a name for herself” by way of a for-rent billboard in Columbus Circle. At the same time, she’s drawn to Lemmon’s young, starry-eyed documentary filmmaker, with his ideal of freedom-by-way-of-anonymity. Shot entirely on location, with priceless footage of Central Park in the early 1950s, IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU is a touching time capsule of a vanished New York, and a still-relevant critique of a society obsessed with fame for its own sake.
Tuesday, December 31 at 7:00PM
Wednesday, January 1 at 2:30PM
JUSTINE (1969) 116 min, 35mm
This intoxicating, rarely screened adaptation of Lawrence Durrell’s beloved novel—the first in his “Alexandria Quartet”—found Cukor working from the wreckage of a half-finished Joseph Strick project, adapting to unfamiliar scenery (an incense-heavy, pearl-encrusted Egypt, shot on a soundstage and bathed in perpetual magic-hour light) and an all-star European cast (Anouk Aimée—with whom the director was famously at odds—Anna Karina, Dirk Bogarde, and Philippe Noiret). The result is a heady, melancholic tone poem in which the novel’s story is blanketed over by a tapestry of atmospheric effects and mysterious gestures—the kind that linger in memory long after the credits roll.
Saturday, January 4 at 4:30PM & 9:15PM
KEEPER OF THE FLAME (1942) 100 min, 35mm
One of Cukor’s most explicitly political films, KEEPER OF THE FLAME, re-united offscreen couple Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn after their smash hit earlier the same year with George Stevens’ WOMAN OF THE YEAR. It was an unlikely second pairing: in place of a fizzy, domestic rom-com, audiences were met with a relatively high-minded reflection on the persistence of the past in the present, the conflict between personal and national duty, and the threat of grassroots fascism. The romantic tension between Tracy, playing a hotshot war correspondent, and Hepburn, as the widow of a national hero with a shady political past, is surprisingly muted—but the film moves at a crackle, and shows Cukor at the peak of his social consciousness.
Tuesday, December 17 at 3:30PM
Wednesday, December 18 at 7:00PM
LES GIRLS (1957) 114 min, 35mm
Hailed by Andrew Sarris as a musical RASHOMON. Cukor’s glorious CinemaScope bauble stars Gene Kelly as a dance troupe impresario who gives one of three differing accounts when one of his dancers accuses another of libeling her in a tell-all memoir. It was Kelly’s first and only collaboration with Cukor, but the scene-stealer is Kay Kendall, lively and quietly heartbreaking in one of her final performances. (She passed away young two years later.) Featuring songs by Cole Porter.
Sunday, December 29 at 6:00PM
Tuesday, December 31at 2:15PM
LET’S MAKE LOVE (1960) 119 min, 35mm
Marilyn Monroe shimmies legs-first into Cukor’s 1960 musical, just before launching into a wildly uninhibited performance of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” Little does she know that she’s being watched mid-rehearsal by the billionaire (Yves Montand) whose life her current show is satirizing—nor, for that matter, that he’s about to join the cast (as himself!) to get closer to her. LET’S MAKE LOVE found Monroe at the peak of her powers: vital, eager, playful, sometimes transparent, sometimes opaque, in some moments strikingly naïve, in others profoundly aware of her influence on the men in her orbit. Her chemistry with Montand is undeniable (and, sure enough, the two stars did spark up an off-set affair during filming), but their tender onscreen rapport is much more than the stuff of movie-star gossip. With cameos by Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, and Milton Berle.
Wednesday, December 25 at 4:30PM
Thursday, December 26 at 1:00PM
A LIFE OF HER OWN (1950) 108 min, 35mm
Cukor’s 1950 melodrama about a successful model and her ill-fated affair with a married man had the cards stacked against it from the start: a victim of miscasting, studio interference, and generally low enthusiasm. The results are rough but fascinating, with a standout lead performance by Lana Turner. Over the years, A LIFE OF HER OWN has gathered a small but powerful base of critical supporters, not least among them François Truffaut. As Richard Brody recently wrote in The New Yorker: “It’s as if the entire film, with its breath-holding look at the catastrophic love of a single woman for a married man, stays hushed in anticipation of romantic disaster.”
Thursday, December 26 at 9:15PM
Saturday, December 28 at 4:10PM
LITTLE WOMEN (1933) 116 min, 35mm
In a small village in New England, the March sisters are growing up in the shadow of the Civil War, for which their father has been mobilized. The girls’ lives are to follow very different paths. After this adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic, Cukor became, as he put it, “typed as a ‘literary’ director.” Of this film, a Depression-era hit, he said: “It was very honest as a picture of what America had been 60 years before.”
Saturday, December 21 at 1:00PM & 6:10PM
LOVE AMONG THE RUINS (1975) 103 min, 35mm
Made for television, LOVE AMONG THE RUINS features one of Cukor's greatest one-off on-screen pairings: Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier. Hepburn stars as Jessica Medlicott, a widowed actress in Edwardian London, who requires a lawyer for a sensitive personal case. The attorney she chooses is a long-ago lover (Olivier) whose dalliance she pretends to have forgotten. Writer James Costigan won an Emmy for his script.
Wednesday, January 1 at 6:45PM
Tuesday, January 7 at 3:30PM
THE MARRYING KIND (1952) 92 min, 35mm
In the chambers of a divorce court, a couple re-play their creaking marriage blow-for-blow: the sun-dappled meeting in Central Park; the speedy marriage; the first home; the afternoon picnic that veers unexpectedly into tragedy; the difficulty coping; the petty resentments; the drifting apart. With its pitch-perfect performances by Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray, its fine screenplay by regular Cukor collaborators Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, its vivid New York locations, and its bold tonal shifts from light comedy to sober drama, THE MARRYING KIND is that rarest of films: a wise, mature, conflicted onscreen portrait of married life, from a director at the height of his powers.
Thursday, December 19 at 4:15PM & 9:15PM
THE MODEL AND THE MARRIAGE BROKER (1951) 103 min, 35mm
Thelma Ritter’s marriage broker enters this lovely, minor-key comedy doing what she does best: fixing up a parade of shy and lonely souls (including Zero Mostel) and stubbornly bottling up her own heartbreak in the process. When she runs afoul of—and later befriends—a young model in a state of constant romantic drift (Jeanne Crain), she’s forced to come to terms with her own past. From a potentially hackneyed premise, Cukor built a bittersweet, gentle portrait of loneliness and romantic disappointment with an undercurrent of world-weary cynicism.
Tuesday, December 31 at 9:00PM
Wednesday, January 1 at 4:30PM
MY FAIR LADY (1964) 170 min, 35mm
MY FAIR LADY was a double adaptation: a film based on Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s runaway hit musical, itself inspired by Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw’s barbed 1912 satire of the British ruling class. To Shaw’s story of a wealthy professor who resolves to transform a poor flower girl into a society lady on a bet, Cukor brought a delicate touch, a vast reserve of empathy, and a perfect measure of devilish wit. Then there’s the cast, led by Rex Harrison (in an incredibly refined performance) and Audrey Hepburn, whose natural charm never obscures her heroine’s strength, tenacity, and fierce force of will. The film won eight Oscars, including Cukor’s first for Best Director, and remains one of his most beloved works: a fitting swan song for the Hollywood musical, and a delightful, eternally relevant film in its own right.
Wednesday, December 25 at 1:00PM
Thursday, December 26 at 3:45PM
OUR BETTERS (1933) 83 min, 35mm
A biting satire on the snobbery of Britain’s upper classes in the 1930s. At her wedding reception, American heiress Pearl Saunders overhears Lord Graystone revealing that he only married her for her money. Years later they are living separate lives and Pearl, now a queen of the beau monde, wishes to introduce her sister Bessie to London society.
Monday, January 6 at 8:45PM
PAT AND MIKE (1952) 95 min, 35mm
Cukor re-united with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn for this delightfully mellow portrait of a determined athlete who escapes the clutches of her controlling boyfriend, only to get dangerously close to her gruff promoter. Encounters follow with a parade of real-life athletes and a gaggle of easygoing, decidedly non-threatening gangsters, as one of Hollywood’s most relaxed, organic love stories slowly blossoms into view. “The whole thing has a degage air,” Cukor later said. “It’s not played from point to point, but let the chips fall where they may.”
Saturday, December 14 at 9:30PM
Monday, December 16 at 3:15PM
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) 112 min, 35mm
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is one of Cukor’s most beloved films, a shining relic from a moment in studio moviemaking when minds could freely meet and talents combine across disciplines—at least occasionally. Everyone’s just on, from screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart to the unbeatable cast (centered on warring trio Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant) to Cukor himself, who proves to be every bit as fine of a visual stylist as some of his showier peers. Compared to its fellow comedies of remarriage, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY never fully aims for the anarchic heights of BRINGING UP BABY or the romantic ecstasies of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. Instead, it’s a worldly, pragmatic reflection on the complex affinities people have for one another, remarkable today for its sexual frankness, its nuanced attention to character motivation, and its balance of empathy and cruelty. Of all the Hollywood classics, few have aged so little, or so well.
Saturday, December 28 at 8:30PM
Sunday, December 29 at 1:20PM
RICH AND FAMOUS (1981) 117 min, 35mm
Cukor’s final film follows two college friends through 20 years of marriage, success, jealousy, frustration, falling outs, and reconciliations. Liz (Jacqueline Bisset) and Merry (Candice Bergen) become fast friends in their first year of college, then go their separate ways—one a celebrated author, the other a Malibu housewife with dreams of literary stardom. Eventually the tables are turned, then turned again, and soon everything is turning: time, fortune, happiness, friendship. RICH AND FAMOUS is a wistful and ultimately bitter swan song for Cukor’s remarkable half-century career, anchored by two performances that this famed director of actors could be proud to go out on. With Meg Ryan in her first acting role as Bergen’s teenage daughter.
Thursday, December 19 at 1:30PM
ROCKABYE (1932) 73 min, 35mm
A Broadway actress is denied custody of her adopted daughter after testifying on behalf of an embezzler in a corruption trial. Years later she returns from Europe with a new hit play, Rockabye, in which she plays the role of a mother. Offstage she is in love with the playwright, but after discovering he has a newborn child she leaves him for her devoted manager.
Monday, December 30 at 7:30PM
ROMEO AND JULIET (1936) 125 min, 35mm
Cukor’s biggest production—and his sole Shakespeare adaptation—is an opulent, beautifully crafted re-telling of the Bard’s legendary romance. It’s an overtly literary movie, but one that’s invigorated by Cukor’s dynamic visual stylings and a catalogue of refined, vulnerable performances (Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard as the two lovers, with John Barrymore in a scene-stealing turn as Mercutio). Shearer was married at the time to producer Irving Thalberg, and ROMEO AND JULIET is as much Thalberg’s monument to his bride as it is Cukor’s tribute to Shakespeare. Watch for a stunning ball sequence choreographed by a young Agnes de Mille.
Monday, December 23 at 1:30PM & 6:30PM
THE ROYAL FAMILY OF BROADWAY (1930) 82 min, 35mm
Directors: George Cukor & Cyril Gardner
Cukor’s first movie on the world of show business and its dazzling play of mirrors is also a parody of his friends the Barrymores, America’s first theatrical family. The grand finale sees the queen of the stage dying in the theater, surrounded by her offspring—including son Tony, just back from Europe, and daughter Julia, who takes over her mother’s role after the interval. Cukor claims that shooting the scene in which Freddie March is followed by his family up the big staircase was the “beginning of a breakthrough,” a discovery of how much more mobile his unwieldy camera could be at a time when cranes were hand-operated.
Monday, December 30 at 3:45PM & 9:15PM
A STAR IS BORN (1954) 154 min, 35mm
A musical remake of the 1937 Janet Gaynor/Fredric March drama, A SATR IS BORN was produced as Garland’s return to the screen after a four year absence. Everything was done to create a genuinely beautiful film—from the Moss Hart scenario to the new songs by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin, the CinemaScope craftsmanship of director Cukor, and the nonpareil casting of James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, and Tom Noonan. Garland won an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress—and, as one appreciative critic noted, could have been cited as well as Best Singer, Best Dancer, Best Comedienne, and Best Mime. Painstakingly reconstructed in 1983 to its original three-hour running time, A STAR IS BORN has now once again been saved from the brink of celluloid extinction using digital technology to correct damaged elements and return the film’s vibrant colors to their initial luster.
Wednesday, December 25 at 7:00PM
Friday, December 27 at 3:00PM & 8:30PM
SUSAN AND GOD (1940) 117 min, 35mm
Cukor’s first of two collaborations with Joan Crawford was this daring tragicomic study of a society woman whose frivolous, self-satisfied tendencies take on a dangerous tint when she falls under the sway of a popular religious cult. Inspired by Frank Buchman’s influential Moral Re-Armament movement and based on a hit Broadway play by Rachel Crothers, SUSAN AND GOD found Cukor nimbly treading the line between light comedy and social critique. (“If you really look at anything,” he’d later say, “there’s always a comic note. A painful note too.”) Watch for a brief but prominent appearance by then-rising star Rita Hayworth, on loan from her contract at Fox.
Friday, December 20 at 1:00PM
Sunday, December 22 at 1:30PM
SYLVIA SCARLETT (1935) 95 min, 35mm
The critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once called SYVIA SCARLETT “the most interesting and audacious movie George Cukor ever made.” With its gender-swapping conceit—a young woman (Katharine Hepburn) disguises herself as a man in order to flee France with her criminal father, only to attract the romantic attention of everyone, boy and girl, in her path—the film sparked a major controversy on release. Since then, it’s become a cult hit—a strange cocktail of theater, deception, and Cockney accents (the latter courtesy of a young Cary Grant). “The film,” Rosenbaum wrote, “changes tone every few minutes, from farce to tragedy to romance to crime thriller, rather like the French New Wave films that were to come a quarter century later… One of the most poetic, magical, and inventive Hollywood films of its era.”
Sunday, December 15 at 2:00PM
Friday, December 20 at 7:15PM
TARNISHED LADY (1931) 83 min, 35mm
Gender battles intertwine with the need to keep up appearances in New York high society. After marrying a wealthy suitor, a worldly-wise woman realizes her mistake and attempts to get back with the writer she believes she loved. But the Wall Street crash, her husband’s ruin, and the birth of her child will force her into a new outlook on life. This is one of Cukor’s first films shot on location and the first sound film of the great stage actress Tallulah Bankhead.
Thursday, January 2 at 4:00PM & 9:15PM
TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT (1972) 109 min, 35mm
Maggie Smith is a vivacious septuagenarian with a fortune-teller lover and some shady business dealings in Cukor’s quick-footed, emotionally nuanced Graham Greene adaptation. She’s on a cross-country journey across Europe with her middle-aged nephew (or so we’re led to believe) to rescue the love of her life from a band of violent extortionists (or so she’s led to believe). Along the way, nephew Harry sparks up a tentative romance with a train-bound American hippie, sums of money and severed appendages change hands, and buried secrets come to light—until, in the words of Renata Adler, it all stops right on a dime.
Monday, January 6 at 6:30PM
TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941) 90 min, 35mm
“Just one of those things,” Cukor sighed retrospectively about this mistaken-identity romantic comedy, his biggest critical flop. A ski instructor falls for a bigshot magazine editor; they marry; he returns to the city on business; she follows him disguised as her flirtatious (and nonexistent) sister. Soon, the jig is up, and husband and wife wind up stuck in a spiral of mutual deception. TWO-FACED WOMAN has at least one invaluable asset: the radiant Greta Garbo, fresh from her recent triumph in NINOTCHKA, giving what would turn out to be her last onscreen performance. (Shaken by the film’s failure, she hesitated for years to take on another project; when her next picture fell apart, she retired. She would live on for a half-century more without making another film.)
Sunday, December 15 at 6:15PM
Wednesday, December 18 at 3:00PM
THE VIRTUOUS SIN (1930) 80 min, 35mm
Directors: George Cukor & Louis Gasnier
Cukor adapts a Hungarian play to a fairy-tale Russian setting, with modern and unconventional characters. During the First World War a wife offers herself to a general in order to save her husband from the firing squad. In her search for freedom the young woman finds true love with the general, and her husband eventually agrees to let her go her way.
Thursday, January 2 at 2:00PM & 6:00PM
WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (1932) 88 min, 35mm
Cukor’s first film with David O. Selznick was a prototype for the various versions of A STAR IS BORN, with an insider’s view of Hollywood that follows the rise to stardom of waitress Mary Evans, “discovered” by ace director Max Carey. Mary goes on to achieve celebrity, marrying a rich young man, Max falls into a tragic decline.
Friday, December 27 at 1:00PM & 6:15PM
WILD IS THE WIND (1957) 114 min, 16mm
Cukor directed Italian screen legend Anna Magnani for the first and only time in this wild, melodramatic story of domestic unrest and forbidden love. A wealthy Nevadan rancher (Anthony Quinn) loses his wife and, in a gesture of VERTIGO-like perversity, tries to re-make her—in the form of her sister (Magnani), whom he imports from Italy and treats as a carbon copy of his beloved. She has other plans, including falling for her new husband’s adopted son (Tony Franciosa). The three performances at the heart of WILD IS THE WIND represent a fascinating cross between old-fashioned Hollywood acting and the modern Method style, suggesting that Cukor, the great classical director of actors, was still willing to strike a balance between the old and the new. The film earned Magnani her second Oscar nomination in three years.
Sunday, January 5 at 5:45PM
A WOMAN’S FACE (1941) 106 min, 16mm
When Cukor made A WOMAN’S FACE—a dreamlike, psychologically acute noir about a disfigured woman stuck in a life of crime, adapted from a Swedish Ingrid Bergman vehicle—his star Joan Crawford was on shaky career ground. It was a risk for her to appear onscreen half-caked in grisly makeup, but the gamble paid off: her performance here is one of her finest, a sensitive portrait of a woman consumed by shame, resentment, and fear. (Special notice goes to her extended, burnt-out confessional speech mid-film.) It’s a beautifully shot and often highly stylized movie—which, somehow, makes it no less effective at probing the relationship between physical and moral ugliness.
Sunday, January 5 at 1:30PM & 8:10PM
THE WOMEN (1939) 133 min, 35mm
“It’s all about men!” ran the original poster tagline for this deliciously overwrought ensemble melodrama. Norma Shearer, Joan Fontaine, and Rosalind Russell lead a gaggle of New York society women who spend their days in gossip, petty rivalries, divorce ranch showdowns, and copious chatter about, well, men—despite the fact that, in a daring move, there’s not a single man so much as glimpsed among the film’s 135 characters. (Per Cukor’s orders, even the onscreen dogs and horses were female.) This was the role that established Russell’s status as a great comic actress, but the greatest pleasure of the acting is cumulative: watching the rest of the cast bounce off and bristle against Shearer’s wronged housewife. With its scenery-chewing performances and stinging, rapid-fire putdowns, THE WOMEN is an acid delight.
Friday, December 13 at 1:15PM & 6:30PM
Saturday, December 14 at 4:30PM
ZAZA (1938) 83 min, 35mm
Claudette Colbert gives a radiant lead performance in this drama of infidelity set in and around a meticulously designed open-air Paris cabaret near the turn of the century. The plot—which centered on a young singer’s affair with a married man—suffered major cuts by the Hays office, which did little to dim ZAZA’s many virtues: Cukor’s textured sense of period time and place, Charles Lang’s glowing photography, the one and only known instance of Colbert singing onscreen, and a movingly understated turn by celebrated vaudevillian Bert Lahr—best known as Oz’s Cowardly Lion—as Zaza’s devoted traveling companion.
Friday, December 20 at 5:15PM
Sunday, December 22 at 6:30PM