Tag Archives: George Cukor

Gaslight (1944, George Cukor)

At the end of Gaslight, when all has seemingly been revealed, there’s only one question left. If Scotland Yard inspector Joseph Cotten isn’t an American in London, why doesn’t anyone notice his lack of accent. It’s a wise choice not to give Cotten an accent–presumably he couldn’t do one–but it also means there’s always something a little off about him, which just furthers his likability. And his likability is important, because (intentionally) there’s not much likable in Gaslight.

The film opens in a flashback–teenage girl Ingrid Bergman is being hurried out of London for the continent, presumably something to do with a strangler on the loose (a newspaper headline informs the viewer). Ten years later, she’s training to be an opera singer. Only it’s not going so well and she’d much rather run off with her pianist, Charles Boyer. So she does, meeting a British woman (Dame May Whitty) along the way; turns out Whitty lives just across the street from Bergman’s childhood home, where she fled in the opening scene, following the murder of her aunt.

Bergman’s ready to go back to London, however, so long as Boyer’s with her. He’s always wanted to live in London. How coincidental she just happens to own some property there. Even if she has nightmares about her time in the house.

Until this point–them arriving in London–Boyer’s been the perfect suitor, now husband. But on their initial tour of the house, Bergman comes across a letter from an admirer to her aunt and it drives Boyer into a fit. He snatches it away from her, explaining he’s upset at how upset the house is making her. He’s such a considerate fellow.

The action cuts ahead–using Whitty snooping on her new neighbors, without much success–and it’s a very different household. Boyer’s just hired rude young maid Angela Lansbury, who he sort of flirts with, sort of doesn’t, but definitely implies interest. He’s constantly chastising Bergman for losing things, even though she has no memory of it. Seemingly to prove his point, she loses something that very day, a family heirloom he’s given her.

On one of the few occasions Boyer lets her out of the house, they happen to pass Cotten, who thinks he recognizes Bergman–for her aunt–and begins inquiring into the still unsolved murder. And finds out it was also a robbery; the thief grabbed precious jewels. Boyer and Bergman had just been to visit the crown jewels, where Boyer salivated at the sight of them. Rather suspicious.

For about the next half hour, Boyer is just tormenting Bergman. He’s absurdly cruel and controlling, even though the film doesn’t actually reveal him doing anything criminal. He’s just some guy who married a wealthier woman, took over her property, and treats her like garbage. Nothing too uncommon for 1885 London, though it’s hard to say as he doesn’t let Bergman meet anyone. Especially not Cotten, who’s still trying to figure out what’s going on with the pair.

Then, at about the hour mark (the film runs just under two hours), we finally see Boyer do something rather suspicious and almost obviously devious. The second hour, which has Bergman start further breaking down, Cotten finally figuring out what’s going on, then multiple showdowns, is phenomenal. The first half is setup, the second half is payoff. And Bergman gets some payoff too, which is a welcome change since most of the first hour and some of the second is just watching Boyer mentally abuse her. Boyer’s cruel in his abuse, not charming. Gaslight accounts for Bergman’s isolation as a factor, but has a hard time showing it. If Bergman’s not with someone else or being terrified while alone, she doesn’t have any scenes.

It’s not until she and Cotten get their first scene alone together where there’s just this phenomenal acting and reveal on the character she’s been creating all along. It takes Gaslight a while to get to its payoff, but its worth it right away when it starts.

Gorgeous photography from Joseph Ruttenberg–especially once the walls, proverbially, start closing in on Bergman. That phase of the film is when director Cukor starts getting rather creative as well. There’s not much in the way of visual foreshadowing on Boyer; in fact, Gaslight usually avoids it, not giving him any suspicious behaviors when he’s just gotten down manipulating Bergman. The way it plays him off Lansbury is phenomenal.

Ralph E. Winters’s editing is also crucial. He’s got to keep up the pace, which drags a little first hour, then never slows down for a breath in the second, even during Cotten’s exposition dumps.

The actors are the stars–earnest Cotten, haunted Bergman, quizzical Boyer. There’s obviously some bad going on with Boyer (from his first scene in London), but it’s never clear what. He’s never sympathetic or redeemable, he’s just cruel. Increasingly cruel. In a special way or just in a bad Victorian husband way is the question.

Bergman spends the film pent up. When she finally gets loose–starting with a wordless exclamation–there’s no stopping her.

Cotten gets to be the steady throughout. He’s always cute, always sympathetic. I mean, his first scene has him taking his niece and nephew to a museum, how can he not be likable. Even if he’s got that obvious, inexplicable lack of English accent.

The supporting cast is all good, especially Lansbury and Barbara Everest (as the hearing impaired cook who can’t ever confirm Bergman’s audial suspicions). And Whitty’s fun. She’s in it for the punchlines mostly and she gets them.

The production design and set decoration are excellent. And Ruttenberg’s lighting of them. Cukor’s got some fantastic composition in Gaslight too, particularly for how he moves the actors around the frame. The screenplay is quick and nimble, though maybe more for Cotten than anyone else. Boyer’s big suspicious action scenes are always a little too big. It’s not clear enough, at the start, why Bergman wouldn’t be more concerned with his behavior.

Gaslight’s an outstanding thriller. Just too bad Bergman didn’t get more to do in the first hour.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, and John L. Balderston, based on a play by Patrick Hamilton; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by Bronislau Kaper; produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ingrid Bergman (Paula Alquist), Charles Boyer (Gregory Anton), Joseph Cotten (Brian Cameron), Angela Lansbury (Nancy), Barbara Everest (Elizabeth), and Dame May Whitty (Miss Thwaites).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE JOSEPH COTTEN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD AND MADDY OF MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS.


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Two-Faced Woman (1941, George Cukor)

Two-Faced Woman is the story of a successful New York magazine editor, played by Melvyn Douglas, who marries his ski instructor (Greta Garbo) while on vacation. It’s a whirlwind courtship, with one condition of the marriage (for Garbo) being Douglas is giving up New York. Turns out he’s not and off he goes to New York.

Once in New York, Douglas keeps putting off returning to Garbo. Fed up, Garbo comes to the city and finds Douglas out on the town with mistress Constance Bennett. Garbo just wants to go home, but then she’s about to be discovered and decides instead to pretend to be her own twin sister. Hence the film’s title.

While one Garbo is “proper,” the other is a “vamp.” She goes out with Douglas’s business partner, Roland Young, and attracts Douglas (out on a date with Bennett). Then he finds out she’s really his wife and spends the rest of the movie tormenting her.

There are some Catholic Church-mandated (yes, really) changes to the film, which make Douglas’s arc a lot more manipulative in regards to Garbo, but the film still ignores the Bennett situation. The extant version has Douglas dumping Bennett to prime Garbo for mental abuse. Without the changes, he’s just done catting around with Bennett and ready to cat around with his wife’s twin sister.

Needless to say, S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer’s script doesn’t have much going for it. Ruth Gordon–as Douglas’s assistant and Garbo’s confidant–has some great scenes, but it’s more in Gordon’s performance than anything else. It’s the presence of the scenes and Gordon. Gordon and Garbo’s relationship is about the only positive to come out of Two-Faced Woman and it seems entirely accidental.

Cukor’s direction, as far as composition goes, is fine. Joseph Ruttenberg’s photography is solid. The matte paintings of the ski lodge are distractingly weak. Cukor’s direction of actors is similarly fine. He doesn’t do anyone any favors, but he doesn’t hurt anyone too much either.

The performances are generally fine or better. Douglas is not. Even without the mandated revisions, his arc in the script is a mess. He starts the film is a doofus, then gets to romance Garbo. In their first scene together, Douglas can’t stop pawing at her and there’s some energy and brewing of real chemistry. But then it’s back to work and the movie’s then double deception and no more real scenes for Douglas and Garbo. No more chemistry.

Garbo’s good. Her parts aren’t well-written, but she tries and sometimes succeeds. The movie’s tone is all off though, thanks to the edits, so it’s hard to know if she’s succeeding because of something revised or something intentional.

There’s a great ski finale. The script runs out of ways to prolong the third act and instead there’s a ski chase sequence. It’s lots of physical humor and expert stunt skiing. Almost like a reward for sitting through more now humorless scenes of Douglas teasing Garbo. Again, maybe they were humorless before.

Either way, Two-Faced Woman doesn’t do anyone any favors. It does Garbo the most disservice and was her last film, though she didn’t intend to retire because of it. But even if it wasn’t responsible for Garbo’s retirement, you wouldn’t really blame her if it were.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer, based on a play by Ludwig Fulda; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by George Boemler; music by Bronislau Kaper; produced by Gottfried Reinhardt; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Greta Garbo (Karin), Melvyn Douglas (Larry Blake), Constance Bennett (Griselda Vaughn), Roland Young (O.O. Miller), Robert Sterling (Dick Williams), and Ruth Gordon (Miss Ellis).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE GRETA GARBO BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor)

George Cukor must have cheated on his wife at every opportunity, given The Philadelphia Story‘s (and The Women before it) rewarding of unfaithful husbands. I watched Philadelphia Story on a lark–I’d never seen it, but had heard of it, and it came up this week. Holy shit–Cukor was gay! I just read it. Huh….

Umm. So, anyway, the movie’s okay. It has a few particularly good scenes, mostly between Cary Grant and James Stewart. Grant was, at this point in his career, at leading status and rarely ever had friends in films (that I’ve seen), only love interests. So seeing him have a friendship is nice. The scenes between Katharine Hepburn and Grant range greatly in quality, mostly because the film is a very strict adaptation of the play. You can see it being performed on stage while watching and that’s never good (Cukor’s other films that I’ve seen–The Women and Dinner at Eight–are both adaptations that suffer the same problem). He does have some interesting composition at times, Cukor does, however. He actually uses soft background on Cary Grant, something I’d never seen before.

The acting ranges too. Grant’s good once his character gets established, Stewart’s okay but miscast, and Hepburn… well, she doesn’t have much to work with. The characters are really thin, which is Stewart’s problem, and Hepburn forces something out of it, but can’t make the character consistent throughout (the script’s at fault for that too–the groundwork for the ending is laid in the last fifteen minutes). The best performance is from the kid sister, Virginia Weidler, who’s just having fun. Similarly, Roland Young is quite good. Ruth Hussey–as another infidelity forgiver–is given an impossible character and she doesn’t have the chops to do anything with it.

The Philadelphia Story is a “class” comedy, where members of the working class mix with the members of the upper class. I’ve never labeled a film or story that one before–though I’m familiar with other folks using the term–and this film is the first time it’s been appropriate… because the makers wanted the audience to label it as such. (I think there might be some homage to it in a scene of Caddyshack II, actually). It’s unintelligible and unbelievable at its best–though still fun thanks to Grant and his chemistry with his co-stars–and propaganda at its worst.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by Philip Barry; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Frank Sullivan; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cary Grant (C.K. Dexter Haven), Katharine Hepburn (Tracy Lord), James Stewart (Macaulay Connor), Ruth Hussey (Elizabeth Imbrie), John Howard (George Kittredge), Roland Young (Uncle Willie), John Halliday (Seth Lord), Mary Nash (Margaret Lord), Virginia Weidler (Dinah Lord), Henry Daniell (Sidney Kidd), Lionel Pape (Edward) and Rex Evans (Thomas).


Dinner at Eight (1933, George Cukor)

It’s called Dinner at Eight, not Leading Up to Dinner at Eight. I had this film taped from TCM and it was near the head of my movielens recommendations–and movielens has been frighteningly accurate–so I watched it….

There’s a lot of good acting in the film–I can’t decide which Barrymore is better or if Wallace Beery is the best. Billie Burke, as the hostess, is good and Jean Harlow’s got some nice moments.

But, really, come on. I can’t believe this one has the reputation it does. It’s not just that it’s stagy, it’s that it isn’t about any of the characters, just about being about them. And it’s too long. Way too long. And there’s no dinner. Don’t be cute, show me the damn dinner.

For a while, it seemed all right. Star-crossed lovers and ruminations about aging… but then it just got long and irritating.

I think I’m going to have to go with Lionel, now that I think about it more.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by Frances Marion, Herman J. Mankiewicz and Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber; director of photography, Williams H. Daniels; edited by Ben Lewis; music by William Axt; produced by David O. Selznick; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Marie Dressier (Carlotta Vance), John Barrymore (Larry Renault), Wallace Beery (Dan Packard), Jean Harlow (Kitty Packard), Lionel Barrymore (Oliver Jordan), Lee Tracy (Max Kane), Edmund Lowe (Dr. Wayne Talbot), Billie Burke (Mrs. Oliver Jordan), Madge Evans (Paula Jordan), Jean Harsholt (Jo Stengel), Karen Morley (Mrs. Wayne Talbot), Louise Closser Hale (Hattie Loomis), Phillips Holmes (Ernest DeGraff), May Robson (Mrs. Wendel), Grant Mitchell (Ed Loomis), Phoebe Foster (Miss Alden), Elizabeth Patterson (Miss Copeland), Hilda Vaughn (Tina), Harry Beresford (Fosdick), Edwin Maxwell (Mr. Fitch), John Davidson (Mr. Hatfield), Edward Woods (Eddie), George Baxter (Gustave), Herman Bing (The Waiter) and Anna Duncan (Dora).