Grumpy (1930): Cukor First Film, Co-Directed with Cyril Gardner

In 1930, George Cukor was assigned to co-direct Grumpy, with Cyril Gardner, whom he had met during his work on the actors’ dialect in River of Romance. This was the first of three films Cukor would co-direct before being given the opportunity to make a solo film, Tarnished Lady with Tallulla Bankhead.

Though elevated by Paramount to the position of co-director, Cukor’s work was not fundamentally different from what he had done as dialogue director.  He handled the acting and dialogue, leaving the shooting of action sequences to Gardner, who had learned his craft in silent films.

The screenplay by Doris Anderson is based on a play by Horace Hodges and Thomas Wigney, which also inspired a 1923 silent of the same title.

When Paramount decided to remake Grumpy as a talkie, they called on Cyril Maude, who had originally brought the play to New York, in 1913, with an English company. But even Maude’s expertness as the senile and testy, yet lovable old Grumpy, could not save the picture.

The titular character is a temperamental but lovable retired London barrister, living in  country with his granddaughter Virginia. Ernest Heron, Virginia’s beau, returns from South Africa with a valuable diamond, which is stolen in a nocturnal attack.  Prime suspect, Chamberlin Jarvis (Paul Cavanagh), who was a house guest, is followed by Grumpy after he tries to sell the diamond to Berci (Paul Lukas).  In the end, the thief, frightened by Grumpy, returns the jewel, and is arrested.

Even in 1930, the material was hopelessly outdated.  The moral standards and the dramatics of the original piece did not keep pace with the changing times. For the sophisticated post-prohibition audience, the film’s battles for honor were hardly worth talking about.

Still, the Variety critic wrote that though the movie was “without allure,” the direction was “legitimate and intelligent.”


Cyril Maude ….. Grumpy Bullivant

Phillips Holmes ….. Ernest Heron

Frances Dade ….. Virginia Bullivant

Paul Lukas ….. Berci

Paul Cavanagh ….. Chamberlin Jarvis