The Marrying Kind ★★★★

Rashomon, Divorce Style
For a marriage running
On bearing ball skates.
A fatalist couple
Needs no morning appointment.

Here is the first of five Cukor posts—a director whose qualities seem to vary somewhat radically depending on his time in Hollywood. Sarris’s original take on him in American Cinema tends to be a bit reductive. Kent Jones comments, “Cukor at his best, which covers about 90% of his career, is never less than vibrantly alive to textures, behaviors, rhythms, moods, emotional tones. His career offers ample proof that there are numerous varieties of consistency apart from thematic, and that movies “move” in many different ways. In Cukor’s case it has to do with staging, always with a keen understanding of the frame.” While his films I think are perhaps defined in narrative mostly by romance (which is to say, they are Hollywood films first), I think you see some wild shifts in approach, the later works more refined visually if opting for something that is much more classical in narrative (this is probably wrong, given I'm only working from a cherry picked set of films).

The Marrying Kind, a mid-to-late Cukor film starring Judy Holliday (an acquired taste) and “introducing” Aldo Ray is first of all an interesting case of a sort of unique type of film acting: they are a little more rough and tumble than the actors Cukor usually worked with, and the rawness here is key. The film is less narrative driven than broken down by sequence, often beginning with the bizarre (that sublime bearing balls nightmare) but ending in utter honesty: after they lose the random “win $2000 radio question” Holiday crawls on the floor and then Cukor slowly tracks as the two finally meet and rekindle their romance in their dark kitchen by the window, keeping the camera as far back as possible to not disturb this intimate moment. This is one of many fascinating compositions Cukor finds in the picture, especially in the final third as he goes for darker shadows and longer takes in which you really feel each movement of his actors, often with stronger sense of depth and space than I feel with some of the 30s and 40s films.

This all being said, there is also a sense of “realism” (that darn word, but bear with me) at play as well. The stripped down apartment, the use of shooting on location in New York. If The Women is defined by its Hollywood elegance (though it has some very funny moments, like the Reno-set physical comedy), then Marrying Kind is through rawness. Dan Callahan points to one particular moment, following the tragic flashback of the loss of one of their kids: “Cukor brings us back to the divorce court where Florence has been telling her story. She’s crying and beating her fists on a table, as if the drowning had just happened.” This sort of upfront quality of the moment of the here and now and the unexpected separates it from a sort of classical elegance. This is a film more attuned to how people truly “act.”