My Man Godfrey
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My Man Godfrey is one of the top Screwball Comedies of all time. The story of a wealthy New York family in the 1930's that brings in Godfrey, a destitute and Forgotten Man as their butler. William Powell plays the leading role brilliantly, and gives the family a madcap ride they will never forget. My Man Godfrey was the first film to receive Oscar® nominations in all four acting categories, including stunning performances by William Powell and Carole Lombard. Presented in color for the first time and beautifully restored, this is the definitive DVD edition of My Man Godfrey.
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Eighty years have passed since the making of the film and this causes me to bring up two things that the current audience may not get. This is a prime example of what was called a "Screwball Comedy" as are It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth and many others. It was mostly popular in the Thirties and early Forties until the War made it seem out of place because it's mostly a type of farce. The form inhabits almost a fantasy world where everything is exaggerated and not quite like reality, full of rapid dialogue, outlandish situations and often different social classes intermingling with comic results. in this case as in almost all these comedies, the wealthy family (the Bullock's) are revealed as a bunch of nitwits and eccentrics with no knowledge of everyday reality, especially during the Depression. The characters are fairly standard: an airheaded mother, the airhead mother's protege (a hanger on with pretensions of artistic talent), a sweet daughter, a snobby daughter or son, a down to earth businessman father, a nice housekeeper and loyal butler. No butler here, nor is there a chauffeur who spouts leftist slogans, but the rest are standard. The rich were shown to be out of touch zanies because it made for lots of comic possibilities.
So to enjoy the film you have to set aside notions of it happening in the real world and see it as the kind of fantasy where a magical character, in this case William Powell's Godfrey, come on the scene to set things right in a family that is highly disfunctional. The superb opening shows the callously clueless rich visiting the local dump to find a "Forgotten Man" (a euphemism for some of the jobless who had reached a staggering 25%) for their scavenger hunt. The scene in the hotel ballroom with a typically frazzled Franklin Pangborn overseeing the scavenged items is equally priceless, peaking with an exasperated Godfrey calling the crowd a collection of nitwits to their faces, This sets up the rest of the film, where Godfrey accepts employment from Irene Bullock as the family's butler which provides the action of the rest of the film.
William Powell and Carole Lombard work wonderfully well together, he being the unwilling subject of her romantic interest. Powell had recommended her for the part as they had been married until three years prior and he said their romance had been a lot like that in the film. In the end things are set straight: Father Bullock (Eugene Palette with his wonderfully gruff voice and exasperated manner) learns some humility; snobby and cruel daughter Cornelia (Gail Patrick) sees how wicked she has been,; Carlo, the leech, (Mischa Auer) is kicked out; and ditsy mother Angelica (Aice Brady), well, she's really too old to change, but was always harmless anyway.
But that brings us to Irene (Carole Lombard) and that's where I do have a little trouble with the film. She has apparently used the family's wealth to remain a spoiled ten year old child, and that is how she acts throughout the film. Sure, it's funny, but I expected her to grow, to show some maturity or judgment after knowing Godfrey, but she doesn't change at all. Because of this, I don't quite see what Godfrey really could see in her. But the film is otherwise so good that I have to let that pass, though i do wish she had shown more depth. At least she's a good soul at heart.
There are lots of laughs to be found in My Man Godfrey, and it is also a showcase for William Powell at his best.
Their father is played by the wonderful Eugene Pallette who was pretty much type cast as the rich father harried by eccentric's.
The mother, Angelica is played by the amazing Oscar winning actress Alice Brady. Then there is Molly the wise-cracking maid and seemingly permanent house guest, Carlo. Into this mix comes Godfrey Smith. William Powell is perfect (I seem to be using that word a lot), as the "Forgotten Man" who becomes the Bulloch family's newest butler. His influence on them is matched by their influence on himself. The chemistry between Lombard and Powell is visible from the start. If you are one of the few people who've never seen this classic from Hollywood's Golden Age, run don't walk to the nearest TV or computer screen and watch 'My Man Godfrey'.
The film recognizes liberal policies but emphasizes the lost idea that good work ethic and capitalism are lost American ideas.
Wonderful cast, great set design, and a good script. This is the first time I have seen this one colorized, and although I am not a fan of colorizing black and white film, in this one... I love it!
Worth your time.