In Little Women (1933) there's a scene when a girl sneaks away at a party and talks to a boy among some flowers. It's nothing special about the scene in itself, but the framing of it, the distance of the camera from the actors, the leafs of the flowers getting between us and the actors, makes it something extra. And as Cukor slowly evolved as a filmmaker his framing skills got even better and better. To me, it's the combination of framing and acting which makes Holiday (1938) such an extraordinary masterpiece, one of the very best of American films.
Cukor's style is like that of someone who is slightly amazed and intrigued by what's going on in front of the camera. He doesn't want to disturb, so the camera stays at a distance, he doesn't want to interfere, so there's little cutting, and he doesn't want to impose, so there are not so many close-ups. Sometimes a shot last for over five minutes, sometimes without the camera even moving.
There's a scene in the beginning of Adam's Rib (1949), where the married couple, played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, are having breakfast in bed. It's the most natural thing in the world, and that's the brilliance of the scene. Not for a second does it feel like a breakfast in a movie, it feels like we're watching Katherine and Spencer having breakfast, in their own home. I can't really tell you why, but it's the small things that does it.
Adam's Rib is the second of five films Cukor did with Judy Holliday, one of my favourite actresses. And she's absolutely terrific, not least in the interrogation scene with Hepburn. Again a five minutes long shot, with not only Cukor (and us) watching Holliday in amazement, but Hepburn as well.
Dinner at Eight (1933), The Philadelphia Story (1940) and It Should Happen to You (1954, the last of the Cukor/Holliday films) are other spectacular examples of Cukor at his best. I could sit here all night writing down one example after another. But I won't. Suffice it to say that Cukor is a director who is awe-inspiring. Robin Wood has made a comparison between Bergman and Cukor, in my thesis on Hasse Ekman I'll argue that there are similarites between Cukor and Ekman. But to me, neither Bergman nor Ekman has made a film as good as, say, Holiday.