My Man Godfrey (1936)
Set on the heels of the Great Depression, "My Man Godfrey" is a movie that has many plates spinning. It tries to juggle a social commentary with its—let's face it—rather unrealistic plot, sprinkling in a dash of romance, and serving it up to its viewer with a side dish of crazy women.
As likable as our protagonist is by the end of the movie, in the first scene we meet him, he is a churlish and rather disagreeable person. Godfrey (the effortlessly charming William Powell) is living in the city dump, surviving on the trash that other people throw away. He's happily minding his own business one night when he is approached by a woman who has obviously descended from high society. She tells him that wants to give him five dollars if he'll do her a favor. What is the favor? She gets to parade him around as a "forgotten man" and win a scavenger hunt. That's all.
Offended at the idea of being objectified, Godfrey pushes the lady into an ash pile—something that he actually never does but is continually referenced throughout the rest of the movie. The lady stalks off, but her sister remains somewhat unintentionally. Striking up a conversation with Godfrey, the sister, Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard), introduces herself as quirky and enjoyable company. To spite the first woman, Godfrey agrees to join Irene at the scavenger hunt, where people collect objects that no one could want.
Irene wins but Godfrey loses. She feels bad about letting Godfrey get humiliated in front of the group of people so she remedies the situation by offering him a job as butler at the Bullock household. He accept and arrives at the house the next day to find the leftovers from the party still lingering around, including a horse in the library.
The maid warns him that he won't last long because this family is crazy. Surely she must be exaggerating, he thinks. But no, she doesn't use hyperbole. This family is insane in the strictest definition of the word: the mother sees fairies. This could be a result of her rampant alcohol attraction; or, as I see it, she's just a little crazy.
Godfrey arrives, thanks to some money that Irene gave him, well coiffed and groomed, looking like a completely different person. Now the story takes a turn. Instead of being a commentary of the classes, it feels like a gender swap version of the dregs to damsel saga. It's "My Fair Lady" without all the singing and Audrey Hepburn whining—sorry, but she whines.
Dedicated to his work and not trying to be laissez faire about the situation, Godfrey takes his position very seriously. Not loafing around, Godfrey quickly establishes himself as a great worker and he wins over the affection of the entire Bullock family—expect the ash-pile sister, Cornelia (Gail Patrick).
What we don't understand at the first glance is that the Bullock family is a little more than eccentric. Irene sees Godfrey as her protege, she will be his sponsor and will be held responsible for him just as her mother does for a musician wannabe named Carlo (Mischa Auer).
They are very much like the family from "You Can't Take It With You" a film that would sweep the Oscars just a few years later.
Though the film is entertaining enough and the acting is fun, though overstated—the film is one of the few movies that got recognized in all four acting categories—it's a movie with no nice finality. It never cements some of its ideas, opting for the laughs and happy feelings instead, which I guess is fine.
William Powell is a sensational presence and the quirks of the family are hard to find at least somewhat endearing.
Posted by Micah Jones