- Born: 1899
- Died: 1983
- Rank: 59
- Score: 562.45
- Awards: Oscar / DGA / Golden Globe
- Nominations: 5 Oscars / 4 DGA / 3 Golden Globes
- Feature Films: 48
- Best: The Philadelphia Story
- Worst: Rich and Famous
Top 5 Films:
- The Philadelphia Story – 1940
- My Fair Lady – 1964
- Gaslight – 1944
- A Star is Born – 1954
- The Actress – 1953
Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):
- 1932-33 – 9th – Little Women
- 1940 – 4th – The Philadelphia Story
- 1944 – 2nd – Gaslight
- 1954 – 6th – A Star is Born
- 1964 – 3rd – My Fair Lady
Because of a recent biography there have been articles recently suggesting that the auteur theory did wrong by Victor Fleming. Yet Fleming, who replaced George Cukor on both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz had nothing like the career that Cukor had. If there is anyone who is missing among the great studio directors with the theory it’s Cukor.
Cukor gets missed because so much of his career dealt with lighter fare. Aside from the top 5 films, he also directed many other comedies, both very good (Travels with My Aunt, Dinner at Eight) and simply good (Adam’s Rib, It Should Happen to You, Holiday). His lists of musicals included not only the brilliant My Fair Lady and A Star is Born, but also Les Girls and Let’s Make Love. But he was never as well known for directing dramas. Outside of Gaslight, his best drama is the original version of Little Women. But he was one of the best directors that the studio system had to offer and he kept it going long after the studio system had died away (his last film, Rich and Famous, though his weakest, is still a fairly decent film, made in 1981) and he directed 20 different actors and actresses to Oscar nominations (including 5 Oscars).
The Philadelphia Story – #3 film of 1940
On the one hand, Jimmy Stewart won the Oscar and really shouldn’t have. It was a makeup win for the year before when he should have won and it took a well deserved Oscar away from Henry Fonda (who would have to wait 41 years for his). On the other hand, Katharine Hepburn absolutely should have won the Oscar (is there anyone these days who can watch this and watch Kitty Foyle and think Ginger Rogers deserved that Oscar?), and because this was in the days where stars weren’t nominated for supporting roles, Cary Grant wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar that he should have won.
Who do we give the credit to? They were all brilliant actors of course. All had given great performances and would do it again (though this might be the greatest performance of Hepburn’s career). There was the script, of course. It was a fantastic play, the height of screwball comedy and perfectly adapted to the screen so that it felt like a movie and not just a filmed version of a play. This was, after all, the year that gave us His Girl Friday, The Great McGinty and The Shop Around the Corner. It was the golden era of comedy.
On the other hand, there is that director. George Cukor. The man who would finally win an Oscar in his mid sixties. A man whose great suspense film would be nominated for Picture but not Director (Gaslight), and then a solid film would be nominated for Director but not Picture (A Double Life). Both would win Oscars for the lead. Maybe it has something to do with the director.
There is an exquisite sense of timing in The Philadelphia Story. The actors play off each other as if they were born to be on film together (or as if they were actually on stage together). That made sense for Grant and Hepburn – they had already done Bringing Up Baby and Holiday (directed by Cukor). But for Hepburn and Stewart? For Stewart and Grant? That’s where the direction of Cukor shines. That’s where he proves how great a director he is. Like many of the great directors of the studio era, the ones who are better remembered (William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann, John Ford, George Stevens), he won an Oscar and was nominated for several others. But like Frank Capra, he never won Best Director from any of the critics groups. The curse of being a comedic director. The curse of simply having exquisite timing.