In the depths of the Depression, a party game brings dizzy socialite Irene Bullock to the city dump where she meets Godfrey, a derelict, and ends by hiring him as family butler. He finds the Bullocks to be the epitome of idle rich, and nutty as the proverbial fruitcake. Soon, the dramatizing Irene is in love with her 'protege'...who feels strongly that a romance between servant and employer is out of place, regardless of that servant's mysterious past...
Running Time: 93 Minutes
MPAA Ratings: NR
William Powell: William Horatio Powell [July 29, 1892 March 5, 1984] was a three-time Academy Award-nominated American actor, noted for his sophisticated, cynical roles. He is most widely known for portraying Nick Charles, husband of Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) in six Thin Man films. Carole Lombard: Carole Lombard (October 6, 1908 January 16, 1942), born Jane Alice Peters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was an Oscar-nominated American actress. She was particularly noted for her comedic roles in several classic films of the 1930s. Alice Brady: Alice Brady (November 2, 1892 - October 28, 1939) was an Academy Award-winning American actor in the silent film era of the late 1910s and 1920s through the 1930s, during the Great Depression.
Gregory La Cava [March 10, 1892 March 1, 1952] was an American film director best known for his films of the 1930s, including My Man Godfrey and Stage Door. He was born in Towanda, Pennsylvania and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students' League. Around 1913, he started doing odd jobs at the studio of Raoul Barré. By 1915 he was an animator on the Animated Grouch Chasers series. Towards the end of 1915, William Randolph Hearst decided to create an animation studio to promote the comic strips printed in his newspapers. He called the new company International Film Service, and he hired La Cava to run it (for double what he was making with Barré).
La Cava's first employee was his co-worker at the Barré Studio, Frank Moser. Another was his fellow student in Chicago, Grim Natwick (later to achieve fame at Disney). As he developed more and more of Hearst's comics into cartoon series, he came to put semi-independent units in charge of each, leading to the growth of individual styles. La Cava also had the significant advantage over other studios of an unlimited budget: Hearst's business sense completely broke down when it came to his Hearst-Vitagraph News Pictorial and the "living comic strips" they contained.
La Cava's main fault as a producer and director was that his cartoons were too clearly animated comic strips, hampered by speech balloons when the rival Bray Studio was creating more effective series with original characters. He was apparently aware of this fault, and he had his animators study Charlie Chaplin films to improve their timing and characterization. But he didn't have time to achieve very much, because in July of 1918 Hearst's bankers caught up with him and International Film Service was shut down. Hearst still wanted his characters animated, so he licensed various studios to continue the IFS series. La Cava and most of the IFS staff got jobs with John Terry's studio (no surprise, since John Terry himself was an IFS alumnus). This only lasted a few months, then John Terry's studio went out of business. The animators were immediately hired by Goldwyn-Bray (as the Bray Studio was now known), but La Cava was not, since Goldwyn-Bray had several producers of his own and La Cava was not interested in starting over. Instead, he moved west to Hollywood. By 1922, La Cava had become a live-action director of two-reel comedies, the direct competitor to animated films.
My Man Godfrey is a 1936 movie that shows how to perfectly combine screwball comedy, superb dialogue and social commentary into one brilliant, seamless whole. Directed by Gregory La Cava, it overcomes the problems of a rather annoying female character and an ending that you can’t quite make up your mind whether you like or not (at least, I couldn’t) to be overall a superb movie.
The film starts with a very strange event - a rich socialite woman (Angelica Bullock [Alice Brady]) goes to a city dump on a “scavenger hunt”. This involves senseless rich people finding various objects and bringing them back to win the respect and admiration of their peers, and at the end of the night any money left over after all the drinking etc will be donated to charity - though there never is anything actually left over. The last item being looked for on this night is a “forgotten man”, of which there are many in the city dump. Upon finding one (Godfrey [William Powell]), Angelica offers him $5 to come with her and be paraded around. He not only refuses but dumps her in the trash, mush to the enjoyment of Angelica’s sister (Irene Bullock [Carole Lombard]). Godfrey then decides to accompany Irene to the Scavenger Hunt so that he can see for his own eyes how these senseless people pass the time. He tells them as much too, which doesn’t go down too well - but Irene takes a shine to him and he ends up as their butler - and, in Irene’s eyes, her very own protégé.
Our man Godfrey finds that he has entered into service with the most dysfunctional family on the planet (they make the Simpsons look worryingly normal). The father, Alexander [Eugene Pallette] constantly despairs at his daughters impropriety (and the state of the family’s finances), while his wife Cornelia [Gail Patrick] is a whole suit short of a full pack. Her protégé, Carlo [Mischa Auer] seems to have aspirations of becoming a singer of some kind, but mainly seems to eat everything in site. The scenes with the whole family together are just insane, and those with Alexander, Cornelia and Carlo are always funny.
Of course Angelica isn’t too happy to have Godfrey working there and does everything in her power to make his life miserable. However, Godfrey puts up with it all, somewhat bemused, but with great dignity and integrity, even when Irene is busy throwing herself at him and then getting engaged the next minute, and the otherwise laconic maid Molly [Jean Dixon] going all soft on him as well. He keeps himself to himself and seems to have an education, understanding and ambition far outweighing his humble origins at the city dump. Then one day a friend of the family, Tommy Gray [Alan Mowbray] is invited to a party at the house and recognises Godfrey - but thinks his being a butler must be a joke. Much intrigue ensues…
I’ve probably given away a little more of the plot than usual there, but that shouldn’t matter too much as the plot isn’t really the important thing here. The dialogue is superb throughout, and is the basis for most of the humour. There is some sparkling banter between the various characters, especially the long-suffering Alexander. Eugene Pallette throws himself into the role body and soul, and his delivery is wonderful. An example of his character’s wry humour is found early in the film, while he is an unwilling spectator to the undignified Scavenger Hunt:
"My Man Godfrey" is truly one of the greatest films of the 20th century. Between comedy and romance, a great moral and wise words are nestled. The film's theme can best be stated by Godfrey's own words: "The only difference between a man and a derelict is a job.." The movie really hits home the fact that men are men, job or not. William Powell does a magnificent job at portraying Godfrey, the butler who humanizes derelicts everywhere. The cast is just as fantastic as the story. Carole Lombard does an amazing job at portraying Irene Bullock, the histrionic and comedic daughter of Alexander and Angelica Bullock, played by Eugene Palette and Alice Brady, both of whom do an amazing job as well. Gail Patrick also does great work as Cornelia Bullock, the uptight and bratty sister of Irene. Jean Dixon and Mischa Auer absolutely steal the show as the Bullocks' hysterical maid and protégé (respectively). The film is definitely a 10...buy it today!
Gregory La Cava
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