Tuesday, March 6, 2018

My Man Godfrey

My Man Godfrey; comedy, USA, 1936; D: Gregory La Cava, S: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, Alice Brady, Mischa Auer

Godfrey is a homeless, unemployed man living near a dumpster. One night, a rich and spoiled woman, Cornelia Bullock, offers to give him 5 $ so that she can win in a game in which millionaires contest in who will find a scavenger first. Godfrey refuses, but his protest gains the admiration of Cornelia's sister, Irene, who hires him as the butler in her mansion. A Harvard student, Godfrey feels humiliated, but accepts the job of a butler. The parents, Alexander and Angelica Bullock, also look fondly on him. When Alexander announces they are broke due to a stock crash, Godfrey informs them that he took Cornelia's necklace to invest and save their fortune, and then quits to run a diner where he employed 50 homeless people from the dumpster. Irene then marries Godfrey.

A gentle "screwball" comedy on the effects of the Great Depression, as well as a consoling commentary on the relations between the upper and the lower class, as well as the people poor with money yet rich with integrity, and people rich with money and poor with wisdom, "My Man Godfrey" is a well made film, yet still failed to achieve that desired status of a timeless classic, even though it was released during the 'golden-age of Hollywood'. Too many of its solutions are simplistic, especially in the too neat, optimistic happy ending which advocated that people should not be judged by their status, whereas the writing is not always on full capacity mode, obvious in several moments of 'empty walk', yet it still has some endearing virtues that give it freshness.

The character of Godfrey, a former Harvard student who now has to accept a job "beneath his standard", the one of a butler, is engaging and easy to identify with, whereas some of his pearls of wisdom are great: in one sequence near the beginning, when he is homeless, he has a funny exchange with a waiter ("Address?" - "City Dump 32."), he later talks to his friend ("It's surprising how fast you can go downhill when you start to feel sorry for yourself."; "The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.") while in another he gives a speech that sums up the arrogance of Cornelia with such a smashing elegance that it deserves an ovation (he calls her a "spoiled brat" whose "misdirected energies are so childish that they hardly deserve a comment even of a butler on a Thursday off"). The love subplot between Godfrey and Irene is a weak link, though, because they do not share enough chemistry, while she is a rather underdeveloped character. The genius performance by excellent Euegene Pallette as father Alexander Bullock with a "rocky" voice stands out the most, since his stoic yet sympathetic stance steals the show, forming a highlight of the film in the most hilarious moment of the story: the one when he loses his temper, escorts the pretentious piano player Carlo outside the room and then a sound of breaking glass is heard. When Alexander returns, he has this golden exchange with his puzzled wife: "What happened? What did you say to Carlo?" - "I said 'goodbye'!" - "Well did he go?" - "Yes, he left very hurriedly through the side window."


No comments: