SCREWBALL COMEDY MONTH
“MY MAN GODFREY” ( 1936 )
What is Screwball Comedy Month without reviewing my second favorite Screwball Comedy of all time, “My Man Godfrey”, featuring Carole Lombard, the Queen of Screwball herself. I had the opportunity of viewing Carole’s gold gown from “My Man Godfrey” at the Hollywood Costume Exhibit in November, and that was by far the best costume of the day, so reviewing this film is a must.
“My Man Godfrey” is the perfect example of Screwball Comedy. Masterfully directed by Gregory La Cava, and written for the screen by Morrie Ryskind, which is based on the original novel titled “1101 Park Avenue” by Eric Hatch. The film stars Carole Lombard and William Powell, who remained friends after their divorce in 1933.
The film centres around the story of Irene Bullock and Godfrey Smith Parke ( Carole Lombard and William Powell ), a young socialite from high society, and a forgotten homeless man who resides at the city dump. During the great depression, dazzling socialite Irene Bullock and a party of people of opulence arrive at the city dump and encounter Godfrey, a down on his luck derelict who lives at the dump with other men. Upon meeting Godfrey, Cornelia Bullock ( Gail Patrick ) discovers that Godfrey is the perfect candidate, so she offers him five dollars to be her forgotten man at the scavenger hunt, which is to take place that night. Perturbed of the idea, he advances on her, resulting in her falling in a pile of ashes. Cornelia is furious, and storms away, much to the delectation of her younger sister Irene, who sees this as the opportunity for her to use Godfrey as the forgotten man. Godfrey finds Irene very frivolous with an amicable aura, and agrees to accompany Irene to the event at the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel. In the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf, Godfrey is crowned as the forgotten man by the scavenger hunt judge, and is asked to stand on the platform, where he makes a speech, expressing his contempt for the rich. Irene is instantly infatuated by Godfrey and hires him as the family butler. Needing a job, Godfrey gratefully excepts, much to the disapproval of Irene’s mother, Angelica ( Alice Brady ).
The next morning Godfrey arrives at the Bullock’s residence, bearing none of the resemblance as the night before. He is clean shaven, and properly adorned in a suit. He is met by Molly, the Bullock’s long serving maid, and the only one who has been able to put up with the Bullock’s eccentric lifestyle. She shows Godfrey the ropes, and warns him just how anomalistic the family are. At first he is perplexed, but he proves to be surprisingly adept at the tasks, though Cornelia doesn’t realize as she still displays enmity towards him. However Irene is swathed in his success, and considers Godfrey to be her protégé.
Complications ensue when Tommy Gray shows up at a party, and greets Godfrey as an old friend. Godfrey extemporizes that he was Tommy’s valet at school. Playing along, Tommy mentions Godfrey’s non-existent wife and five children, which leaves Irene disheartened. As a result she impulsively announces her engagement to Charlie Van Rumple, who is incognizant about the whole thing. Soon she breaks down in tears and flees after being politely congratulated by Godfrey. Weeks later, Irene and her sister departs for a vacation in Europe, thinking that time away would help get her mind off Godfrey, but while holidaying in Europe, Irene misses Godfrey, and becomes even more enamored by him.
On their return, Irene’s devotion for Godfrey evolves, and now she realizes that she really is in love with him. When Godfrey puts her in the cold shower after one of her staged fainting spells, Irene is certain that Godfrey is equally attracted to her. Godfrey does love Irene, but he feels that marriage between servant and employer is totally out of place. Irene though takes no notice and yearns for a life with Godfrey.
“My Man Godfrey” gathered a distinguished cast. William Powell and Carole Lombard were at the pinnacle of their popularity. Both actors exuded charisma in any film they graced with their charming presence. They both left a mark of distinction in this comedy. Both are elegant and sophisticated, and they make us care about the characters they are playing.
Carole Lombard delivered one of her most cultivating performances in “My Man Godfrey”. Her commendable portrayal of the rich and effervescent Irene Bullock is in my opinion one of her greatest comedic roles. Carole defined Screwball with her on and off screen antics, and nobody was equally adept at this genre than what Carole was. William Powell also gave one of his most meritorious performances in his portrayal of Godfrey, the destitute man who transforms into a sophisticated butler.
“My Man Godfrey” is Screwball Comedy gold. With a fast paced script filled with zany characters, and a film that sparkles with wit, sophistication, romance and humor, all combined into one superlative film, and the result is spectacular. This is a movie not to be missed.
William Powell suggested his ex-wife Carole Lombard for the leading role with the explanation that his real life romance with Lombard had been much the same as it was for the characters of Godfrey and Irene.
This is the only movie to ever get Oscar nominations for writing, directing and all four acting awards without being nominated for Best Picture. It was also the only movie to ever get those six nominations without winning in any of the categories all until American Hustle (2013).
Although stars William Powell and Carole Lombard had been divorced for three years by the time they made this, when offered the part Powell declared that the only actress right for the part of Irene was Lombard.
This was the first film to ever receive four acting nominations at the Academy Awards, and it did so in the year that the supporting categories were introduced.
The Bullock mansion is located at 1101 Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, New York. 1101 Park Avenue is at East 89 Street, just behind the famed Museum Mile section of Fifth Avenue, just a few blocks north and east of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at East 82 Street and Fifth Avenue.
Godfrey: “The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.”
Irene: “Godfrey loves me! He put me in the shower.”
Godfrey: “Why can’t you let me alone?”
Irene: “Because you’re my responsibility and someone has to take care of you.”
Godfrey: “I can take care of myself.”
Irene: “You can’t look me in the eye and say that. You love me and you know it. You know, there’s no sense in struggling against a thing when it’s got you. It’s got you and that’s all there is to it – it’s got you!”
Carole Lombard: Born Jane Alice Peters on October 6th, 1908 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Died: January 16th, 1942, on Mount Potosi, Nevada. Aged 33. Cause of death: Airplane crash.
William Powell: Born William Powell on July 29th, 1892 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Died: March 5th, 1984 in Palm Springs, California. Aged 91.