T here is a famous photograph taken in 1972 at a lunch given by George Cukor in his Los Angeles home to introduce fellow directors, all elderly and distinguished, to Luis Buñuel. It’s like an informal meeting of the Hollywood pantheon and would have been even more impressive had not Fritz Lang and John Ford been forced by frailty to leave early. Most of them smile cheerfully or at least manage some sociable expression. But two of them don’t. One is Buñuel, who’s sitting to the right of Alfred Hitchcock, his eyes firmly directed towards George Stevens on his other side in a manner that suggests suspicion and bewilderment. Even more expressionless is Rouben Mamoulian. He is on Hitchcock’s left, but a little apart from everyone else and slightly in front of them. His presence as one of the great American directors is appropriate, as is his position slightly separate from, and ahead of, these peers. And there is a certain mystery about him that he seems aware of in this photograph. His place in the history books as a major figure in the development of the cinema is assured – as a master stylist, a metteur en scène perhaps, rather than an auteur.

more from Philip French at the TLS here.