One Hour With You is one of Ernst Lubitsch’s most effervescent and sophisticated comedies, and easily ranks up there with the director’s best works, including the sublime Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Ninotchka (1939), but it had one of the most tortuous and complex geneses of any of the director’s works. For in the beginning, the film wasn’t a Lubitsch film at all; it was to be a George Cukor film, and indeed, when the film began shooting, Cukor was in the director’s chair. Lubitsch, who was head of production at Paramount at the time, had too much on his plate, and was busy directing The Man I Killed (also released in 1932), and farmed out the direction of the film to the up-and-coming Cukor. But things didn’t work out from the start. Firstly, The Man I Killed was a rather heavy drama, not Lubitsch’s forte. After the New York premiere of The Man I Killed at its original 94-minute running length, public reception was tepid at best. The film was heavily recut to a mere 77 minutes, retitled Broken Lullaby, and re-released in an attempt to generate additional box-office revenue (1). It didn’t help. Under both titles the film failed with audiences and critics, and put Lubitsch in an uncharacteristically pessimistic mood.

Thus, when One Hour With You went into production, Lubitsch was tired, distracted, and wanted out of his Paramount contract anyway, which was set to expire on 7 March 1932 (2). Paramount hoped to get two more films out of him before that date; the “supervision” of One Hour With You, and the direction of what eventually became Trouble in Paradise. After completing work on The Man I Killed on 22 October 1931, Lubitsch sat down with the proposed script for One Hour With You, read it, hated it, and immediately began to rewrite it with his longtime collaborator Samuel Raphaelson (3). With the start of shooting pushed back to November, he worked on the script to bring out the continental flavour of the piece; Cukor was present during these sessions, but according to Raphaelson, at least, did little more than comment that the new script was “great” and let it go at that (4).

Even so, the script was still incomplete when Cukor began directing the film on 12 November 1931. After two days of shooting, a worried Raphaelson summoned Lubitsch to a Paramount screening room, disturbed at what he saw in the rushes. Raphaelson, Lubitsch and even the film’s star, Maurice Chevalier, felt that Cukor was handling the material in much too “broad” a manner. Thus, from the third day of shooting onwards, Lubitsch came to the set and, at least according to his version of events, pretty much talked Cukor through the direction of the film, and on the fourth day, reshot a key scene with Chevalier to achieve a lighter touch. By the 8th day of shooting, 20 November 1931, Lubitsch took over the direction entirely, while Cukor sat on the set, watching, “approving” each take, but in reality having ceded direction of the film to Lubitsch (5).

When the finished film was premiered, its original title credits named Lubitsch as the producer, and Cukor as the sole director. Cukor did nothing about this, and Lubitsch bided his time to see what would happen. However, when the first trade review appeared, applauding Cukor on his achievement, and implicitly praising the film as superior to Lubitsch’s earlier films with Chevalier, The Love Parade (1929) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Lubitsch angrily demanded that his name be taken off the picture in any capacity, noting in a letter to his boss B.P. Schulberg that “the spectator and critics not familiar with the inside story [of the making of the film] will probably attribute the better direction to the help of George Cukor” (6).

The response from the front office was immediate. Cukor was called in to Schulberg’s office and asked to take his name off the film; predictably, Cukor refused. Furious, Schulberg simply removed his name from the credits, and sent out a revised pressbook to exhibitors stating, entirely in capitals, that “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IS GEORGE CUKOR’S NAME TO BE MENTIONED IN ANY WAY IN CONNECTION WITH ONE HOUR WITH YOU” (7). Cukor, equally furious, sued to block the release of the film, and for a while it seemed that the entire matter would end up in court. At the last moment, a deal was made. Paramount released Cukor from his contract, and he immediately went to RKO and producer David O. Selznick, where he began his illustrious career in earnest, with the direction of What Price Hollywood? (1932) and Katharine Hepburn’s first starring vehicle, A Bill of Divorcement (1932). These films were substantial hits, and Cukor’s career rebounded. Meanwhile, Lubitsch’s name was restored as director in the final onscreen credits and the promotional materials for the film, with one line included, in smaller type, below it: “assisted by George Cukor”. And there, the matter rested (8).

However, as time went by, Cukor (who later would be famously fired from Gone With The Wind [1939] and replaced by Victor Fleming), felt a need to tell his side of the story. While admitting to interviewer Gavin Lambert that “with the best intentions in the world, I couldn’t do a Lubitsch picture. Lubitsch was what they really wanted and what they should have had”, Cukor also asserted that he “directed [the film] for about two weeks” and that while he “didn’t like Chevalier, and he didn’t like me”, he was doing, by his own lights, an excellent job, when Lubitsch took over (9). As Cukor further stated:

What happened [when Lubitsch took over] was goddamned agony for me. I was under contract and had to stay on the picture, on the set, while Lubitsch took over […]. Lubitsch still couldn’t give a hundred percent of his time to [the film], because he was cutting [The Man I Killed] and so on. I still did a few things, I carried them out the way he wanted, but for most of the time I just sat there and really did less than when I was a dialogue director. I behaved very well, I think […] I admire Lubitsch very much, but he shot things in a highly stylized way that is simply not my own. (10)

As to why he allowed his name to remain on a film that he manifestly, by his own admission, didn’t really direct, Cukor offered this explanation:

if [Schulberg] didn’t want my name on the picture, he should have taken me off after the first two weeks […] he probably thought I wanted to take credit for something I didn’t do. But I don’t believe anyone should be cheated out of a credit when it matters; I’ve always made a great point of that for myself and for other people. (11)

Somehow, to me at least, this last point doesn’t ring true. A more likely explanation is Cukor’s own admission that “I wanted to leave [Paramount] anyway. David Selznick had gone over to RKO and wanted me to work for him there. Out of sheer deviltry, and because he didn’t like Selznick, Schulberg wouldn’t let me go.” (12)

But after the threat of a nasty lawsuit, and the attendant unfavourable publicity it would have engendered, Schulberg was only too happy to release Cukor, who was then only too happy to leave. And, to be fair about it, for a director of Cukor’s calibre to be forced to sit around a set while someone else directs the film that was originally to have been yours, rather than being directly dismissed, is a bit too much to ask of anyone. And, as Patrick McGilligan notes in yet another version of this convoluted tale, despite “Lubitsch’s continuous attendance for rehearsals, discussion of photography, and actual filming of scenes, always with Cukor present and assenting […], Cukor felt that he remained in charge” (13). When Cukor’s credit was taken off the film, according to McGilligan, “Schulberg offered to let Cukor direct the next Chevalier-MacDonald film, Love Me Tonight [which was eventually helmed by Rouben Mamoulian, and released in 1932]”, but nothing would appease Cukor except full credit for the film (14). Indeed, in his lawsuit against Paramount (a very nervy move for an emerging young director to make), Cukor bluntly asserted that his signature was on “every single take” of the film, and noted that while Lubitsch was “a master of craft and one of the most outstanding directors of the industry,” that he alone was the sole director of the film. Any statement to the contrary, he charged, was merely a “subterfuge” designed to “serve [Lubitsch’s] own interests” (15).

That’s one version of events; however, as critic Gary Carey notes on the subject of One Hour With You’s directorial provenance, “[Cukor] has contradicted himself in two interviews, one time saying he had relatively little to do with it, another time saying he, in effect, directed the entire film” (16). This last claim seems highly unlikely from the evidence that Scott Eyman and other contemporary scholars have unearthed. As Eyman notes,

after a painstaking perusal of Cukor’s affidavits [for the lawsuit, historian Barry Sabath] estimates that Cukor’s contribution to the finished film consists largely of single close-ups without dialogue, or shots of feet going up stairs, the sort of afterthought material that is often left to second units or assistant directors. (17)

And yet, while it seems clear that Cukor did little on the film, it also seems clear that Lubitsch and Raphaelson took the film out of his hands in a rather demeaning manner, and forced him to sit by and watch as they took over the reins of production. Certainly, with Cukor at the helm, by his own admission, One Hour With You would have been a very different film. Critic and historian Carlos Clarens notes that, in the final analysis, One Hour With You “is a charming comedy that either director could claim unreservedly, but one that nevertheless defies inclusion in either [director’s] filmography, being too dainty for Lubitsch and still a mite too ribald for Cukor” (18). Perhaps Cukor’s presence on the set, even if he was just sitting in a chair nodding approval, had some effect on the finished film in an evanescent, impossible to define fashion.

But in the end, none of this backstairs imbroglio is evident on the screen. Indeed, the film is one of Lubitsch’s best works, and showcases the talents of stars Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald to excellent advantage, in yet another variation on Lubitsch’s silent hit The Marriage Circle (1924). Dr. Andre Bertier (Chevalier) is blissfully married to Colette Bertier (MacDonald), until Colette’s old “friend” Mitzi Olivier (Genevieve Tobin) arrives on the scene, and begins an aggressive campaign of seduction aimed at Andre, despite the fact that she is still married to the long-suffering Professor Olivier (Roland Young). At the same time, Colette has to fight off the unwanted attentions of Adolph (Charles Ruggles), a rich bachelor who pathetically, and to great comic effect, throws himself at Colette’s feet. In the end, despite Andre’s dalliances with Mitzi, all is forgiven, and Andre and Colette are reunited, seemingly just as happy as they were at the beginning of the film, in a beguiling mixture of song, dance and comedic mastery. It seems clear that One Hour With You is Lubitsch’s work alone, with perhaps an “assist”, as the credits indicate, from Cukor, whose own sensibility was very different from Lubitsch’s. Despite the problems on the set during shooting; it is equally clear that this charming, richly detailed film is a jewel in the director’s crown, and one of the finest musical comedies of the early sound era. And in the final analysis, one might argue, that’s all that really matters.

Endnotes

  1. Scott Eyman, Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1993, 384.
  2. Eyman, 185.
  3. Eyman, 185.
  4. Eyman, 185.
  5. Eyman, 186.
  6. Eyman, 186.
  7. Eyman, 187.
  8. Eyman, 187.
  9. Gavin Lambert, On Cukor, Putnam’s, New York, 1972, 42.
  10. Lambert, 43.
  11. Lambert, 43-44.
  12. Lambert, 44.
  13. Patrick McGilligan, George Cukor: A Double Life, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1991, 70.
  14. McGilligan, 70.
  15. McGilligan, 71.
  16. Gary Carey, Cukor & Co.: The Films of George Cukor and His Collaborators, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1971, 25.
  17. Eyman, 187.
  18. Carlos Clarens, George Cukor, Secker and Warburg, London, 1976, 25.

One Hour with You (1932 USA 80 mins)

Prod Co: Paramount Pictures Prod, Dir: Ernst Lubitsch Assistance: George Cukor Scr: Samson Raphaelson, adapted from the play Only a Dream by Lothar Schmidt Phot: Victor Milner Ed: William Shea Art Dir: Hans Dreier Mus: W. Franke Harling

Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Genevieve Tobin, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young, Josephine Dunn, Richard Carle, Barbara Leonard

About The Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon is the James Ryan Professor of Film Studies, Coordinator of the Film Studies Program, Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and, with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, editor of the book series Quick Takes: Movies and Popular Culture for Rutgers University Press. Dixon’s book A Short History of Film (2008, co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster) was reprinted six times through 2012. A second, revised edition was published in 2013; a third revised edition is forthcoming in 2017. The book is a required text in universities throughout the world. Dixon’s book Black & White Cinema: A Brief History (2015) was featured on Turner Classic Movies as part of their series “Artists in Black and White.” Just published is Dixon’s newest book, A Brief History of Comic Book Movies (co-authored with Richard Graham (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).