George Cukor: The Director Who Makes Films Seem Real

This article is part of the Favorite Director Blogathon:

George CukorWhat makes one director better than another? Many viewers would say that interesting camera angles and filming techniques show superior direction. Others might say creating suspense and excitement is the mark of an excellent director. However, I think a truly grand director is one who is able to make a movie seem real. I will examine the naturalness of films directed by George Cukor by discussing their dialogue, acting, film techniques, and music.

Firstly, George Cukor’s films usually contain scripts which are particularly realistic, since they are comprised of quick, clever, and slightly bizarre dialogue that is worded in unusual ways. In fact, some of the lines and scenarios are so odd and spontaneous that I scarcely can believe some scriptwriter wrote them; this adds to the film’s believability, since, for the most part, people speak stranger than the average scriptwriter imagines. This effect is heightened by the rapid, unpredictable way the lines are delivered by the actors in his movies; I always get the impression that they are really the characters talking, not actors acting. Cukor’s direction caused this naturalness in actors, since he welcomed suggestions, changes, interruptions of lines, and even ad libbing; during Jack Lemmon’s film debut, It Should Happen To You, which Mr. Cukor directed, he told him to do less several times. Finally, Mr. Lemmon said, “If I do any less, I won’t be acting!” “Exactly!” Mr. Cukor responded, and that was the secret of this brilliance. Next, one might think that complicated or dramatic filmography is most effective, but simple filming techniques, such as a stationary camera angle throughout an entire scene, create a more simplistic style which adds to the feeling that the viewer is in the scene with the characters. Elaborate fades and fancy special effects are memorable and essential in some films, but George Cukor usually made intelligent movies which relied on scripts and acting rather than effects. Finally, he used minimal background music in most of his films, such as Holiday from 1938, in which he used no unrealistic music, namely, music which would not really be present in the scene; even in his later films, which do feature unrealistic soundtracks, the music is usually only played during transitions between scenes. Background music can smother good actors, who are convincing enough to support themselves; also, a scene without music can be so intimate and realistic that one is almost completely convinced that it is reality, not fiction.

Having reviewed George Cukor’s directing style in terms of his films’ dialogue, delivery, filming, and music, it is evident that he had a technique for direction which produced natural, spontaneous films. He chose scripts which had a striking oddness that made them extremely realistic. His direction led actors to behave very naturally and say their lines so believably that they were really not acting. He never detracted from the scripts and delivery with effects, since he used uncomplicated cinematography. Also, during scenes with dialogue, he used little or no background music, which can be distracting and can remove the illusion of realism. Watch Holiday from 1938, Adam’s Rib from 1949, and It Should Happen to You from 1954 to see this excellent director’s finest work during the Golden Era of Hollywood, the Breen Code years.

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13 thoughts on “George Cukor: The Director Who Makes Films Seem Real

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  4. I will definitely keep this in mind next time I watch one of Cukor’s films. Some modern directors could definitely learn something from him!

    Thanks so much for participating in this Blogathon with this insightful piece!

    Liked by 1 person

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