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USA 1936
Directed by
Gregory La Cava
94 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

My Man Godfrey

Screenwriters Morrie Ryskind and Eric Hatch push the screwball genre to its limits with a far-fetched scenario, wacky characters and quick-fire dialogue all tied up with a bow of sentimentality in this screwball comedy which is much admired in some quarters but is almost too manic for its own good.

Carole Lombard plays Irene Bullock, a wealthy young socialite who brings home a vagrant, Godfrey Smith (William Powell) to work as a butler for her family and promptly proceeds to fall in love with him.

The classy opening titles might suggest a Broadway musical to come but My Man Godfrey is largely set in the upscale Manhattan home of the Bullocks which stands in pointed contrast to the briefly-seen Lower East-side shanty town where Godfrey lives with his buddies, the film’s pointed Depression-era agenda being to contrast the shallowness of the lives of the idle rich with the integrity of the workless poor.

Most of this is done by depicting the Bullock family from Godfrey’s point-of-view. Eugene Pallette is the harried paterfamilias, Alice Brady his nit-witted wife, Gail Patrick his bitchy elder daughter and Lombard his sweet-natured but scatter-brained youngest Irene who, in a rather improbable turn of events, falls in love with the much older Godfrey (there is also a pampered live-in “artistic” guest played by Mischa Auer). Aside from Godfrey parrying Irene’s romantic aspirations, the narrative is driven by the mystery of his past. Cleary he is not your average bum, something which pretty much undermines the film’s social conscience and gradually we discover what happened to bring him down before the film wraps on a fatuously happy ending (which definitely puts a nail in the coffin of the film’s social conscience).

For all that My Man Godfrey is amusing enough (it really should have been a musical) with Powell urbane and charming although Lombard at 28 is too old to be carrying on like the teenager which her rather vaguely-drawn character appears intended to be. The rest of the cast however are very good with Pallette in typical form, Brady perfect as his air-headed wife and Patrick lending a nice contrasting touch of cynicism to the bubbling proceedings

FYI: Powell and Lombard had been briefly married in the early ‘30s. The film was remade in 1957 with David Niven and June Allyson in the leads.




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