A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, October 24, 2016

My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936)

I don't know if director Gregory La Cava and screenwriters Morrie Ryskind and Eric Hatch intentionally set out to subvert the paradigm of the romantic screwball comedy in My Man Godfrey, but they did. It has all the familiar elements of the genre: the "meet-cute," the fallings-in and fallings-out, and the eventual happily-ever-after ending. And it is certainly one of the funniest members of the genre. William Powell is his usual suave and sophisticated self, and nobody except Lucille Ball ever played the beautiful nitwit better than Carole Lombard. But are Godfrey (Powell) and Irene (Lombard) really made for each other? Isn't there something really amiss at the ending, when Irene all but railroads Godfrey into marriage? Knowing that marriage is an inevitability in the genre, I kept wanting Godfrey to pair off with Molly (Jean Dixon), the wisecracking housemaid who conceals her love for him. And even Cornelia (Gail Patrick), the shrew Godfrey has tamed, seems like a better fit in the long run than Irene, with her fake faints and tears. The film gives us no hint that Irene has grown up enough to deserve Godfrey. Or is that asking too much of a film obviously derived from the formula? Perhaps it's just better to take it for what it is, and to enjoy the wonderful performances by Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Alan Mowbray, and Mischa Auer, and the always-welcome Franklin Pangborn doing his usual fussy, exasperated bit. A lot could be written, and probably has been, about how the film reflects the slow emergence from the Depression, with its scavenger-hunting socialites looking for a "forgotten man." a figure that only three years earlier, in Gold Diggers of 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy), had been treated with something like reverence in the production number "Remember My Forgotten Man." Had sensibilities been so hardened over time that the victims of the Depression could be treated so lightly? In any case, My Man Godfrey was a big hit, and was the first movie to have Oscar nominations -- for Powell, Lombard, Auer, and Brady -- in all four acting categories. It was also nominated for director and screenplay, though not for best picture.