Sylvia Scarlett (Cukor, 1935)

Cukor’s film achieves a consistent debauchery and an unpleasant lunacy which recycles seemingly meaningless characters back into roles of prominence without a sense of structure. It’s no surprise Sylvia Scarlett bombed upon release, since it lacks the cohesive devotion to story the later Grant/Hepburn/Cukor collaborations thrive upon. There’s no denying the acting talent on display, but Cukor can’t find the right balance of performance and plot, opting out for a shifting, meandering outlook on love and deception. This approach just isn’t as successful as say Holiday‘s brilliant pacing or The Philadelphia Story‘s beautiful attention to character. Where those films created an environment of romantic tension worthy of the characters, this Cukor can’t decide which direction, or stance to take on the subject at hand. A major disappointment.

Camille (Cukor, 1936)

The heroine of George Cukor’s Camille can’t ever seem to make up her mind. As played by the great Greta Garbo, Marguerite is torn back and forth between the love of Robert Taylor’s Armand Duval and the wealth of Henry Daniell’s Baron de Varville so many times it becomes unimportant where she ends up. A “classic” love story, but one that relies too simply on this push pull love triangle, Camille has lush and lavish set design but none of the drama one would expect of such material. Even with all the period piece settings, Cukor’s drama can’t overcome the repetition of plot, especially when the performances are this wooden (Taylor is the consummate nutcracker). The doomed life of Marguerite has little charm and a bunch of melodrama, her exploits meandering through tough life changing decisions played off as casual musings of the rich. Garbo’s performance is the only sign of life in Camille, making her demise extremely ironic – it’s as if the film has put so much stock in her character it suffers more and more as she becomes increasingly love-sick. In the end, Marguerite’s life is wasted, much like Camille wastes much of it’s talent. It’s becoming apparent to me Cuckor’s comedy’s outclass his works of drama any day.

The Philadelphia Story (Cukor, 1940)

It’s hard to imagine the genre of romantic comedy without Cary Grant. His timing, charisma, and personality will never be duplicated, no matter how much George Clooney intends to try. The Philadelphia Story, like Bringing Up Baby, exemplifies Grant’s genius for facial expressions and charming rants. This time, Grant shares the screen with both Kate Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, a love triangle of epic proportions and resounding cinematic chemistry. While the supporting players in The Philadelphia Story aren’t as memorable as other classic screwball comedy’s, the stars and their respective characters shine brighter than ever. The dialogue heavy interludes project the whimsical eire of fate, people destined to annoy, love, and save each other. This film is indeed, a fairy tale, as seen by the hand drawn impression of Independence Hall in the opening credits. But as with all of the Cukor masterpieces (Adam’s Rib comes to mind), The Philadelphia Story represents a hope we can find something to relate to in these fantastical experiences, celebrating the artificial within all our waking dreams of fancy. There’s a confidence in The Philadelphia Story rarely seen in today’s romance pictures. Heartfelt grasps at romanticism have been replaced by irony and pastiche, which seem to go further in explaining love’s complexities to current generations than any fairy tale ending could. That’s too bad, because I’ll take Cary Grant any day.