Rockaby (1932): Cukor Directs Pre-Code Melodrama, Starring Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea

George Cukor directed the early Depression star Constance Bennett in two films that were shot quickly, Rockaby in 1932 and Our Betters in 1933.

In Rockaby, Bennett is the star of a romantic tale of a Broadway actress who is denied adoption because of her underworld connections.

Our Grade: C+ (**1/2 out of *****)

She redeems herself in a love affair with a presumably honest playwright (Joel McCrea), only to realize that he is married.

A contrived story of a woman sacrificing her happiness for a man, the movie was targeted to female viewers, containing some unusually passionate scenes between the two leads, well played by Bennett and McCrea.

When stage actress Judy Carroll testifies on behalf of her former lover, accused embezzler Al Howard, she loses custody of Elizabeth, an orphan she had planned to adopt.

to alleviate the emotional pain, her devoted manager Antonie “Tony” de Sola (Paul Lukas) urges her to travel to Europe with her alcoholic mother Snooks (Jobyna Howland).

While there she reads a play entitled Rockabye, which eerily resembles recent events in her life. Despite Tony’s qualms, she is determined to star in its Broadway production.

Playwright Jacob Van Riker Pell (McCrea) is certain the sophisticated Judy will be unable to portray convincingly his heroine, a tough girl from Second Avenue, until she confesses she was raised there herself.

The two hit it off and Judy convinces Tony to produce the play. On the verge of divorce, Jake wants to wed Judy as soon as he is free.

When Jake fails to appear at the opening night party, his mother tells Judy that her daughter-in-law has just had a baby and asks her to forget her son.

Jake arrives and assures her he still wants to marry her, but Judy insists he return to his wife and newborn child. Devastated, she is comforted by Tony, who finally reveals his feelings for her.

Note:

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RKO purchased the play’s rights from Gloria Swanson and hired George Fitzmaurice to direct the film version. To accommodate exhibitors awaiting a new Constance Bennett film, the studio rushed the script into production with Phillips Holmes as the male lead. But when the completed film was shown, it was declared it un-releasable and was called George Cukor to salvage it.

Cukor replaced Holmes with Joel McCrea and Laura Hope Crews, in the role of Judy’s mother, with Jobyna Howland. He then reshot all their scenes, and re-edited the balance of the film.

Cast
Constance Bennett as Judy Carroll
Joel McCrea as Jacob Van Riker Pell
Paul Lukas as Tony de Sola
Walter Pidgeon as Al Howard
Jobyna Howland as Snooks Carroll
Clara Blandick as Brida
Walter Catlett as Jimmy Dunn
Virginia Hammond as Mrs. Van Riker Pell
J. M. Kerrigan as Fagin
June Filmer as Elizabeth
Veda Buckland as Mrs. Evans (uncredited)
Richard Carle as Doc (uncredited)
Lita Chevret as Party Guest (uncredited)
Charles Dow Clark as Mr. Farley (uncredited)
Sterling Holloway as Speakeasy Patron (uncredited)
Virginia Howell as Mrs. Bronson (uncredited)
Edgar Kennedy as Water Wagon-Driver (uncredited)
Charles Middleton as District Attorney (uncredited)
Bert Moorhouse as Speakeasy Patron (uncredited)
Edwin Stanley as Defense Attorney (uncredited)
Max Wagner as Reporter (uncredited)

Credits:

Directed by George Cukor
Produced by David O. Selznick
Written by Jane Murfin, based on Rockabye by Lucia Bronder
Starring Constance Bennett
Cinematography Charles Rosher
Edited by George Hively
Distributed by RKO Pathé
Release date: November 25, 1932
Running time 68 minutes