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8 Classics Directed By George Cukor

A Master Craftsman and Director of Women

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A consummate craftsman and one of the most esteemed directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, George Cukor directed a number of classic movies in a career that spanned five decades. Many of his films focused on strong female characters and starred the era’s top actresses, earning him a reputation as a women’s director.

Cukor’s body of work contained numerous hits and Oscar winners, all which displayed his talent with pacing, rapid-fire dialogue and a flawless attention to detail. Few directors of any generation have been able to match his craft. Here are eight classic movies by master director George Cukor.

1. ‘Little Women’ – 1933

MGM Home Entertainment
A big commercial hit that netted Cukor the first of five career Oscar nominations for Best Director, Little Women was a tale of two halves in the lives of four sisters (Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, and Jean Barker) in Civil War-era Massachusetts whose fun-loving youth descends into disappointment and death. Cukor deftly explored tensions between class, society, and the sexes in this lavishly produced adaptation of Louisa May Aclott’s classic novel, themes that he would continued to examine throughout his career.
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2. ‘The Women’ – 1939

MGM Home Entertainment
Cukor put his talent for pacing and handling of strong female characters on fine display in this sophisticated comedy focusing on a trio of bored New York socialites (Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell) whose unending penchant for gossip uncovers an extramarital affair. Possessing snappy dialogue and excellent performances all around, particularly from Crawford, The Women was one of the biggest hits of 1939, which was some comfort for Cukor, who was fired during the early stages of Gone With the Wind.
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3. ‘The Philadelphia Story’ – 1940

MGM Home Entertainment
Cukor earned his second Oscar nomination for Best Director after directing this snappy screwball comedy starring Katharine Hepburn as a brassy socialite caught between her carefree ex-husband (Cary Grant) and an intrepid reporter (James Stewart) looking to write an exposé on her wealthy father (John Halliday) on the eve of her second marriage. Quick witted and full of sharp dialogue, the film maintains a high energy level all throughout thanks to Cuckor’s steady hand. The Philadelphia Story also marked a comeback for Hepburn, who had been previously labeled box office poison.
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4. ‘Gaslight’ – 1944

MGM Home Entertainment
Turning toward a different genre, Cukor helmed this excellent thriller about a late 19th century singer (Ingrid Bergman) who marries a dashing man (Charles Boyer), only to discover that he’s a jewel thief who murdered her aunt ten years ago. Despite initial misgivings by the studio to remake the film a mere five years after its initial release in England, Gaslight remained a wildly entertaining film featuring Bergman, Boyer and co-star Joseph Cotten at the height of their powers. The film earned seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture.
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5. ‘Adam’s Rib’ – 1949

MGM Home Entertainment
Cukor directed one of the best Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy films, Adam’s Rib, where the soon-to-be real-life couple played a happily married pair who find themselves at odds while serving as attorneys on opposite sides of a headline-making case – he’s the prosecutor and she’s the defense. The case in question involves a distraught wife (Judy Holliday) who is put on trial for the attempted murder of her cheating husband (Tom Ewell) and his mistress (Jean Hagen), leaving husband and wife to battle each other in the courtroom and at home. A hit in its day, Adam’s Rib has maintained its reputation as a sharp and witty comedy in later generations.
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6. ‘Born Yesterday’ – 1950

RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video
Though not his most famous film, Born Yesterday caused quite a stir upon release for its suggestion that politicians might actually be corrupt – a big no-no during the McCarthy Era. William Holden starred as a man called in by a boorish millionaire (Broderick Crawford) with politicians in his pocket to school his showgirl mistress (Judy Holliday) into having some class. Of course, Holden and Holliday fall in love. Born Yesterday was best known for Holliday’s win for Best Actress, though Cukor did earn his fourth nomination for Best Director.
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7. ‘A Star Is Born’ – 1954

Warner Bros.
Cukor turned down an offer to direct the original version in 1937, leaving William Wellman to pick up the reigns instead. Almost 20 years later, Cukor was given the chance to direct this remake in full-on Technicolor splendor. Though reluctant, he accepted and later came to regret it. He was unable to get the actors he wanted for the male lead – Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra were all rejected – while dealing with daily script changes and the instability of star Judy Garland, who was in the throes of worsening alcohol and drug addiction. The film was nominated for six Oscars and became an all-time classic, but remained one of Cukor’s more painful experiences.
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8. ‘My Fair Lady’ – 1964

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Starring Audrey Hepburn as a working-class girl transformed into an elegant and mannered woman, My Fair Lady was a triumph for Cukor, becoming his biggest commercial hit and earned him his only Oscar for Best Director. But such success did not come without cost, as Cukor was forced to contend with a diva-like Hepburn whose casting in a musical was already controversial due to her inability to sing. Still, this adaptation of the long-running Broadway hit was a spectacular achievement for Cukor. Though he would go on to direct well into the next decade, one could argue that his career had its swan song with My Fair Lady.
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