Friday, May 17, 2013

My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936)

  I didn't expect much going into this viewing. I finally decided to watch this film on YouTube because not only was it in the public domain, it also would be my first Carole Lombard -- one of the last remaining actresses on AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars list whose filmography I am totally unfamiliar with. Imagine my surprise when what started out as just a minor viewing fare for the night turned into an undisputed classic right before my eyes. Between my nods of shock were clear outbursts of uncontrollable laughter. My Man Godfrey is no doubt one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, I shit you not. Besides I can't shit you because:

      During a game of scavenger hunt (played by a bunch of wealthy people scavenging for the most absurd items), sisters Irene (Carole Lombard) and Cornelia (Gail Patrick) Bullock try to find a "forgotten man" -- code name for a homeless chap -- for the final item on their list. They come across ash heaps and find a forgotten man in the form of Godfrey (William Powell). Godfrey spurns the too-proud Cornelia, but is convinced to help ditzy Irene, mostly to satisfy his curiosity about what sort of game these wealthy people play. After helping Irene win the scavenger hunt, Godfrey is offered a position in the Bullock household as the butler. At first, he is more than happy to be offered a life off the streets. However, he soon begins to notice just how kooky the household is, with the heads of said household Angelica Bullock (Alice Brady) and Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette) behaving for the most part just as badly as their spoiled kids. Matters are further complicated when Irene develops an obsessive crush on Godfrey and vows to woo him.

   This is possibly my biggest Old Hollywood oversight thus far due to how much of a gem it really is. The lines fly off the walls but are contained in nuanced performances from the actors. Often times it is not what is said that is funny but how the actor says it. Alice Bradley was the best at this technique, playing the role of the absent-minded matriarch perfectly while managing to hold back and let the true stars of the film shine. Her little giggles and wisecracking had me in fits of laughter and replaying her scenes quite frequently. Gail Patrick does a great job as the villain. Yet, she is never unlikable, which goes to show how great she is at filling her role with enough light-heartedness so as not to detract from the mood of the film. Carlo, Angelica's protege, played by Mischa Auer was also amazing as the faux intellectual/artist. His feud with Alexander provided an interesting and fitting subplot to the film. Still, Carole Lombard and William Powell are the main attractions for this film. It goes without saying how well Carole plays her role. Perhaps, I have a thing for a girl shamelessly and ardently chasing the man in a movie (see: Bringing Up Baby). I've seen some reviewers complain that Carole's character is too immature. That may be true. But, my personal bias aside, Carole gave that role all the right elements it needed. The over exaggerations, the fainting spells, the tail chasing (and I'm not just talking about the tails on Godfrey's uniform) are all exceptionally comical, yet they come across as genuine. She simmers the spoiled heiress role with comedic over exaggerations while still retaining ties with the emotions boiling below the surface. William Powell plays more the role of the straight man, but his Godfrey is so full of charm and woe that you cannot help but root for him.
   My Man Godfrey is the perfect film for a simple night in or family viewing. I assure you the laughs will come aplenty. An amazing film that promises a lot for the rest of each actor's filmography.

Chill out, Irene

Ludovico Rating


  1. I couldn't agree more! This film is top notch from beginning to end. Powell and Lombard make such a great team, but for me it's Powell that really steals the show. He is able to mix the comedy and drama so well, and his performance is a well blended masterpiece.

    1. I have to agree. Powell is the center of the film. A lesser actor would have thrown everything off balance. Gosh, I love this film. Although it is regarded as a classic, I think it's a bit underrated because it really doesn't get all of the praise it deserves. It's on par with Some Like It Hot and Bringing Up Baby as my favorite Old Hollywood comedy.