Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema is the comedy classic, My Man Godfrey. Carole Lombard is illuminant and funny and wonderful. One of the landmark “screwball” comedies of the 1930s, My Man Godfrey offers the radiant Carole Lombard in her definitive performance as flighty young heiress Irene Bullock, who on a society scavenger hunt stumbles on Godfrey (William Powell), an erudite hobo residing in the city dump.
“Director Gregory La Cava was a master of the sustained comedy.”
It’s a screwball masterpiece, a “silvery romp.” Lombard is delicious, and her comic genius is on full display on this film.
My Man Godfrey (1936) By Frank S. Nugent, NY Times, Published: September 19, 1936
Rushing the calendar, the Radio City Music Hall has decided to have its April Fool’s Day in September. With Universal’s compliments, it presented yesterday the daffiest comedy of the year. My Man Godfrey, from the novel by Eric Hatch, is on the order of the Three-Cornered Moon of a few seasons ago—except that it is slightly more insane. There may be a sober moment or two in the picture; there may be a few lines of the script that do not pack a laugh. Somehow we cannot remember them. It’s nonsense, of course, but it’s something to relish on a damp September morn.
Perhaps you have not read the Hatch novel. Then you are not acquainted with the Bullocks. There is Mrs. Bullock (Alice Brady does her magnificently) who speaks in a stream of exclamation points and has a sad-eyed and voracious protégé, Carlo. There is Cornelia (Gail Patrick will serve), with a vicious temper and an ingrained snobbery. There is Irene, the cow-eyed, who has a one-track mind with grass growing over its rails. It is not a fair portrait of Carole Lombard, but she rises beautifully to the role. There is Mr. Bullock (Eugene Pallette), who glares at his Fifth Avenue ménage and wonders whether he is going crazy or the people around him are.
And, naturally, there is Godfrey. We thought of calling him William Powell, but this isn’t Mr. Powell, it’s Godfrey. He was the forgotten man that the skirted Bullocks set out to find during a scavenger hunt. They already had goats, Japanese goldfish, corsets, tennis racquets, and a monkey. Cornelia found Godfrey first. He was living in a shack colony of the unemployed on the city dumps near the East River. Godfrey pushed Cornelia into an ash pile. But Irene won him over, captured the loving cup in the scavenger hunt, and rewarded Godfrey with a job. “Do you know how to buttle?” she asked, and Godfrey became a butler for the Bullocks.
That is the way it begins. Godfrey, we learn later, is a Harvard man, momentarily gone to seed, but like most Harvard men he is a thoroughly irresistible chap, equally capable of dealing with Mrs. Bullock’s pixies (she sees them on morning-afters), with Cornelia’s attempt to plant a pearl necklace on him, with Mr. Bullock’s financial difficulties, or the plight of his former co-squatters in the waterfront jungle. But not, we hastily add, with the forthright emotional processes of that bovine divinity (or vice versa), Irene, who is somewhat surer than death or taxes. Godfrey, when we leave him, is being led to the slaughter and it’s enough to bring tears to the eyes of an Eli.
Mr. Hatch has assisted in the writing of the screen version of his novel and he has preserved admirably the feather-brained quality of his book. Gregory La Cava has directed the piece with his customary feeling for comedy and, to the work of the players previously mentioned, has been added a cheerful contribution by such reliable clowns as Alan Mowbray, Mischa Auer, Jean Dixon, Franklin Pangborn, and Ed Gargan. The sum of it is that My Man Godfrey is an exuberantly funny picture.
MY MAN GODFREY (MOVIE)
Produced and directed by Gregory La Cava; written by Morrie Ryskind, Eric Hatch, and Mr. La Cava, based on the novel 1101 Park Avenue by Mr. Hatch; cinematographer, Ted Tetzlaff; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Charles Previn; art designer, Charles D. Hall; released by Universal Pictures. Black and white. 1936. Running time: 94 minutes.
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