Movie Morsel: My Man Godfrey
Classic comedy of the early Silver Screen. There is nothing quite like it. Whether it is Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, or William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man, there is a style and charm to how these classics were made. For my money, though, the one that grabs my heart with every viewing is the 1936 film My Man Godfrey. Starring William Powell and Carole Lombard, every moment in this film brims with wit and wackiness. Society maiden Irene Bullock (Lombard), in an effort to find a “forgotten man” for a charity scavenger hunt, makes her way to the city dump where she meets Godfrey (Powell), a down-on-his-luck inhabitant of the shantytown near the river. Finding Irene charming, Godfrey consents to help her win the scavenger hunt and besting her venomous sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick). Unbeknownst to anyone else in her family, Irene hires Godfrey to be their new butler. When he shows up for work the next day, he finds way more than he bargained for. Mrs. Bullock (Alice Brady) is dimwitted alcoholic who believes she hears fairies in her room. She sponsors a protégé names Carlos (Mischa Auer), a musician who eats the Bullocks out of house and home and enjoys their luxury, even if it does mean he is occasionally asked to act like an ape for the family’s entertainment. Molly (Jean Dixon) the maid assumes that Godfrey won’t last, but finds herself falling in love with him when he proves he can handle the family’s eccentricities and last past his first day. Mr. Bullock (Eugene Pallette) is a stressed-out, bombastic man who has had it with his family and their inability to live within their means. Cornelia makes it a point to keep Godfrey in his place, punishing him because Irene likes him so much. Irene fauns over Godfrey, who tries to remain a professional (though he eventually succumbs). As the film goes on, we find out the Bullocks are in financial ruin, but Godfrey has something up his sleeve that just might save the day.
My Man Godfrey features a screenplay by Morrie Ryskind, a popular writer for theatre and film in the 20s, 30s and 40s, particularly in comedy. Other films by Ryskind include The Coconuts, Animal Crackers and A Night of the Opera (all Marx Brothers vehicles), as well as Stage Door, His Girl Friday and Penny Serenade. His screenplay for My Man Godfrey received an Oscar nomination. My Man Godfrey was directed by Gregory La Cava who directed Stage Door as well (he was nominated for directing Oscars on both projects). The film also found Powell, Lombard, Brady and Auer nominated. It was the first movie to have performers nominated in all four acting categories. For some reason, the film was not nominated for Best Picture. The Great Ziegfeld was the winner that year.
Fun Fact: William Powell and Carole Lombard had been married and they were divorced three years when My Man Godfrey was made. Powell was cast first and upon reading the script insisted that Lombard was the only actress who could do the character of Irene justice.