My Man Godfrey

1936, Movie, NR, 94 mins

Review

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A silvery romp. The flaw is that it never delivers on the satire it starts with, dissolving into Cinderella fantasy along the way. But the leads are so impeccable that the seam never shows and the greatly underrated La Cava directs with precision. Of all the great comediennes, Lombard's innocently unflappable center was unique. She's like an eternal playmate--a quality only Harlow shared. It's a pity the two never played sisters.

Anyway, MY MAN GODFREY is comedy with a social conscience, although the message's subtlety has to be unearthed from all the humor. The flaky, endearing Irene Bullock (Lombard) and the dark, calculating Cornelia (Patrick) are two Park Avenue brats in the midst of a scavenger hunt party. Among other items on their list is a "forgotten man" from one of Manhattan's hobo jungles. Irene for once bests her snobbish sister when she convinces down-and-out Godfrey (Powell) to come back to the party with her. Godfrey, however, turns out to be more than the Bullock family ever bargained for when when Irene hires him as butler.

The rich are made to look very foolish and the poor appear very noble in this film, something that Depression audiences must have appreciated. Two years later, a film inspired by this one, MERRILY WE LIVE, was released, but it and the flat 1957 remake of MY MAN GODFREY were inferior attempts at recreating the chemistry of this film. Powell and Lombard, married in 1931 and divorced in 1933, were still friendly enough to make a marvelous onscreen team. One of the better, if not the best, of the famous screwball comedies of the era, GODFREY stands as an excellent example of witty scripting, direction, and editing. With Eugene Palette (growling some of the best lines, and certainly one of the strangest, funniest men ever), Alice Brady (great in these dithery roles), and Mischa Auer (in his famous monkey imitation) among the congress of nitwits. Look fast--there's Janie Wyman in the party scene. leave a comment

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