What Price Hollywood?
Hard work, mostly.
Boleslawski’s famous exercise asks the novice to hear a mouse in the corner, Constance Bennett acts this out. Ken Russell has the no-show in Savage Messiah and the waitress turned movie star in Valentino. The sophisticated Easterner contemptuous of Hollywood is a frequent pose of film critics.
“Just a bit of Hollywood in tired old New York” (L.N., New York Times).
“A fan magazine-ish interpretation of Hollywood plus a couple of twists” (Variety).
“Funny, moving, and unusually honest” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide).
Halliwell’s Film Guide has “fairly trenchant” etc.
The foundation of this is assuredly The Royal Family of Broadway (dirs. Cukor & Gardner).
A Bill of Divorcement
The reason for the break is given as lengthy absence in a lunatic asylum following on shell shock suffered in the trenches, an absolute break for a new life.
The ailment is hereditary, the overpowered wife is not prone to it, their daughter is.
So father and daughter while away the time poring over his unfinished piano sonata, the prophetic element is no doubt responsible for John Farrow’s 1940 remake.
“Intelligent, restrained and often stirring”, said Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times, he admired the acting and Cukor’s direction as well.
Variety spoke of an “Ibsen Ghosts theme”. Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) has “skillfully canned”.
Halliwell’s Film Guide coincides with Milne, “now very dated”.
All the schools should teach this film, because you can see from the first frames that Cukor knows how to make a movie, and it’s as good as any. Cukor believes that directing means being direct. This gives him means whereby an action scene (a lapdog plunging onto the floor, a girl skidding on snow) registers itself simply, and when Jo March wants a moment of privacy, he is there with his camera already waiting. Time passing is a luxurious stretch in a sleepy actress, and drama is what thespians do. Cukor is there to record it as best he may, with his camera.
The acerbity of Alcott’s view of history, when it comes to the making of an artist (or its birth), has precisely the transparency always fancied by Cukor. The lighted screen full of images coming from somewhere you watch in a dark room, “it’s a system, girls,” as Moe Axelrod says.
The Personal History, Adventures,
Experience, & Observations of
The original of Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, father of Hitchcock’s Rebecca, sire of Lean’s Dickens and Reisz’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (“dancing on the edge”).
These are but a few of its virtues.
The absolute horrors that turn to sunshine in a moment, or not.
W.C. Fields as Micawber. “We are now ready to tackle Dickens. We are now ready to embrace Dickens. We are now ready to bask in Dickens” (Nabokov, Lectures on Literature).
Variety nattered at it somewhat, like a dog with its bone.
Andre Sennwald of the New York Times popped his buttons with praise, “the most profoundly satisfying screen manipulation of a great novel that the camera has ever given us... a genuine masterpiece.”
The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “outstanding family fare.”
Geoff Andrew (Time Out) confesses, “one of those rare things, a blend of Art and Hollywood that actually works.”
Leonard Maltin in return, “Hollywood does right by Dickens.”
It even invents Ken Russell as Mr. Dick, “sharp as a surgeon’s lancet,” he of the great intellectual affinity for King Charles I.
“Of all the boys in the world, I believe this one is the worst.”
Meanness, falsity, cruelty, to be avoided.
“The finest boy—in England!”
But one must be educated, and for that there is Mr. Wickfield and a certain Heep, clerk in his office. So it is that the second part is a mirror to the first and its Murdstone. Which is to say, in childhood a Murdstone is as a mountain, leaving school we discover a whole Heep.
By coach to London and The Enchanted Bird, “perhaps, if my aunts permit.”
And of all things, it even begets Losey’s The Go-Between. “Deceit and treachery” and Gyp. A writer’s life. A recipe for turtle soup.
“They seem rather obstinate oysters” (cf. Richard Donner’s Twinky, or Lola).
The mirror of Murdstone breaks into Heep and Steerforth.
According to Variety, “the mechanically melodramatic shipwreck scene,” so vital to Lean and Altman, “might easily have been left undone.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide hallelujahs, citing Agee against Fields and Basil Wright for all, “perhaps the finest casting of all time.”
A film ahead of its time, worked out later by other directors including Cukor (Heller in Pink Tights).
The Pink Pierrots play the seaside, and that is how a British artist meets the half-French ideal girl, whose father’s a plunger in lace.
So it goes, immensely complicated, earning its tribute from Variety, a candid avowal, “hard to understand,” Sennwald of the New York Times nearly likewise.
Romeo and Juliet
The analysis is in two parts, the first is defined by the casting of Barrymore as Mercutio for precise weight. “Your houses,” says he, and the “infectious plague” strikes, which is the instrumental pivot to the second, la mort et l’amour.
Cukor has not much use for these houses, grand and fine as they are he sees something finer, as noted by Frank S. Nugent in his New York Times review. The analysis is Cukor’s basis of filming, next is the poetry, and then the actors.
Some critics, including Graham Greene and Alberto Cavalcanti, have taken issue with the film rather shortsightedly, there are masterpieces by Castellani and Zeffirelli to consider as well.
An influence on Olivier is probably discernible here and there.
Here is the basis of technique in Gaslight for the milieu in the opening shot and My Fair Lady for a unique inattention to anything that is not the actors except in the one pictorial shot at the gaming parlor, where the entire situation is exposed by means of composition. In a private room, Marguerite is humiliated (lower left), the scene is divided by an open doorway (right, top to bottom) in which Armand stands crowned by the chandelier in the background which may be said to figure in Karel Reisz’s The Gambler.
Cukor elsewhere situates his actors in front of the camera to do business, Greta Garbo and Lionel Barrymore are the acrobats and stars of this, Verdi is forgotten, each member of the cast is treated very attentively in various backgrounds toward which they extend like comets’ tails. This is especially notable in a gathering of the demimonde that resembles backstage life at The Blue Angel, they are floaters in a pool recognizable with Prudence as that of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Elles, the Baron sustains Marguerite but flees her sickness.
Armand is there every day, the diplomatic service awaits him, his father brushes aside the tender obstacle. Cukor’s attention to the facts of the drama in terms of dialogue spoken in settings as described is unwavering, a million associations are enkindled along the way, he lets them recede, sink back into the drama, like the marrons glacés of Cyrano de Bergerac ordered specially by Armand and never delivered.
The final scene is remembered by Fritz Lang in Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse.
A masterpiece admired in its day. If Little Women ought to be run in cinema schools, Camille is for artists.
That vacancy in a man’s mind at a certain age, very young, is a woman’s province.
Cukor heightens the bet with everything Columbia has to offer, a palatial house nominated for an Academy Award more than justly.
The girl who wants him takes him (Women in Love).
A brisk venture, droll and virtuous, played like a violin, “the padded cells of the well-to-do.”
Even if you imagine how funny women can be, conceived as a pure sex in a laboratory environment or bouncing like balls on green baize, you were better served to like them, although in the abstract they are devious, cunning, subtle, etc. The dithering world of an imagination unkept by any discourse, the plum of all puddings, the rational equivalent of a divorce filing read as comedy filler.
It’s a blisteringly hot comedy on the worm (Norma Shearer) turning, and in which Adrian rises to a diapason of increasing visual intensity. Fellini couldn’t touch it (nobody could), so he incorporated it as the foundation garment of Giulietta degli Spiriti.
Susan and God
“Enid, if you want a real beauty hint, this lipstick is known as Fireman’s Underwear Red, guaranteed not to come off, even on a fireman.”
The “new order” and one appointed to “lead”, or how Ibsen reached O’Neill (The Iceman Cometh).
The problem is grave, Chaplin has The Great Dictator at this time, Stevens Woman of the Year a bit later.
Cukor saves the day by imagining it here, a near thing. Pinter’s The New World Order and Party Time resemble the theme.
Bosley Crowther looked for a “beating” that never came, and found the rest for his money “vapid and inconsequential” (New York Times). Variety had not much idea of it.
Halliwell’s Film Guide quotes Pauline Kael of The New Yorker as seconding its opinion, “not a good comedy,” Kael wrote, “but it has a certain fascination,” etc.
Shatner’s The Final Frontier (Star Trek V) has exactly the same theme.
The Philadelphia Story
An enormously influential film. Ken Russell completely absorbed it for Women in Love and even Gothic (Tracy naked on the roof), there’s something of an echo and more in John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, even if it’s only coal-miner Kittredge struggling to mount his horse, and alcoholic Haven forms the basis of Cukor’s A Star Is Born.
The settings are even more exquisite at M-G-M than Columbia’s for Holiday, where the theme is a man’s mind and its terra incognita, here a woman’s mind discovers its polar opposite.
Here you have all the makings of a critique, or a riposte to a critique, The Painted Word played out and run up the mast for an ensign. Even if you are not disabused, why, you have been invited.
Macaulay Connor the Poet looks at Tracy Lord and says, “that’s the blank, unholy surprise of it”, the screenplay is of uncommon brilliance and justifies the ancient glory of a now lamentably forgotten playwright.
Viridiana is a fine mocking analysis. When, in Cassavetes’ Big Trouble, Alan Arkin and Robert Stack enter the vault piled high with golden bric-à-brac and objets d’art, this is the “hock shop on the side” referred to by James Stewart that the Lords “must be running” on that extensive sideboard.
The calm of Philip Barry’s elaborate, refined construction, which is one of the ingredients of Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice, is brought to bear on the performances with rich results. Connor must marry Liz (“Mrs. Joe Smith”), despite her pinchin’ from Uncle Willie. George Kittredge the Self-Made Man is sent empty away. Mr. and Mrs. Lord are simply parents. Dinah the Bridesmaid watches the Rape of Tracy in a comic anticipation of Robbe-Grillet’s Le Voyeur, and delivers her punchline at the wedding, where Sidney Kidd of Spy must be reduced to taking snapshots.
C.K. Dexter Haven the Skipper, for whose aid and benefit Barry modernizes the Shakespearean villain as Kidd, must come safely to harbor.
Cukor’s Hollywood lighting is like the sun that shines on rich and poor alike. He finds sport in a couple of images, Tracy out of her Little Lord Fauntleroy pantsuit taking an elegant dive into the