My Man Godfrey is one of the quintessential screwball comedies of the 30’s and helps to define the boundaries of scatter-brained, fast talking hysterical entertainment. The first film to be nominated for acting Oscars in all four categories, Gregory La Cava’s hilarious film is still funny today, even without sex, violence, nudity, suggestive themes or any other commonplace item of recent comedy: it relies solely on the hilarity of unusual situations and the jocosity of dimwits and the contrastingly suave, sophisticated Godfrey.
Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) and her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) are on a scavenger hunt, collecting random items to bring back to their rich and snobbish high society friends. On the list is a “forgotten man” and the two stumble upon Godfrey (William Powell), a homeless man living on the outskirts of town. Cornelia is especially rude and Godfrey refuses to go with her, but Irene uses a gentler approach, and out of curiosity and the nature of sibling competition, he agrees to help her complete the game. She wins, but Godfrey is outraged at the absurdity and wastefulness of her high-class acquaintances and family, so she offers him a job as a butler in compensation for his embarrassment. He strives to be the best butler possible, but it is rapidly apparent that the entire family is crazy and that the pride-wounded Cornelia is out to destroy him. But Godfrey is not what he seems, and aims to teach the scatter-brained family a thing or two about decency and perhaps love.
The acting is absolutely flawless and lends to the most comically entertaining chemistry between so many completely opposite personalities. Irene and Cornelia are constantly at each other’s throats and vie for the attention of Godfrey. Cornelia aims to discourage him while Irene falls blindly and madly in love. Lombard’s quirky fast talking and often mindless ramblings are incredibly hilarious and perfectly contrast Godfrey’s calm, debonair demeanor. William Powell creates one of the most adored, admired and likeable characters ever to grace the screen, and it is constantly exciting to see him make carefully calculated decisions and win each round outwitting the conniving Cornelia. The mother (Alice Brady) is equally as harebrained as her family and is almost entirely comedy relief. Her protégé Carlo (Mischa Auer) is an unconventional character, as he has absolutely no place in the film save for scenes of comedically genius outbursts of prissiness and absurdity. Carlo’s character doesn’t progress the story and serves no other purpose than to garner laughs – and he succeeds admirably. The father plays the straight-laced man to the enormously off-kilter family and yet still has his skillfully comedic moments thrown in.
Newer comedies tend to exploit immaturity to muster up laughs, but My Man Godfrey uses a more timeless approach. The characters suffer from naivety more than anything else, and the enjoyment comes from watching Godfrey educate their thoughtlessness. The film is consistently lighthearted and silly, but a love story presides over the whole affair. Part unconditional and mostly blind, Irene and Godfrey’s love is undoubtedly passionate. The phrase “they don’t make movies like that anymore” was coined especially for films like My Man Godfrey, which remains one of the greatest screwball comedies as well as one of the greatest movies ever made.
– Mike Massie (www.MoviePulse.net)