|MY MAN GODFREY (1936)|
Directed by Gregory La Cava
Writers Morrie Ryskind, Eric Hatch
If you don’t think there’s salvation and the plot of a screwball comedy in a homeless camp during the Great Depression, you haven’t seen My Man Godfrey. Make sure and watch this screen gem on the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies. The story starts in New York as two rich sisters, Cornelia and Irene Bullock played by Gail Patrick and Carole Lombard, go to the city dump to obtain a “forgotten man” for a scavenger hunt party. Cornelia offers $5 to the down-and-out Godfrey Parke played by William Powell. The well-spoken Godfrey is offended by her snobbish manner and pushes Cordelia into a trash heap. Irene thinks that’s funny. Godfrey is charmed by Irene and agrees to play along. He is such a refined homeless character that Irene wins the scavenger hunt game at the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel. But Godfrey is disgusted with the whole idea and wants to return to his homeless camp. Irene is so smitten with him that she offers him a job as their family butler. Once at their mansion, the absent-minded society Mom and Papa Bullock, are charmed too. The couple are played by Alice Brady and Eugene Palette. Mother Angelica is always distracted and father Alexander can’t believe he lives with this bunch and worries about money. But mean sister Cornelia thinks about how to get back at Godfrey, and then there’s a free-loading protégé named Carlos who adds to the wackiness of the household. Godfrey carries out his butler duties with great skill and polish. At a tea party thrown by Irene, one of the guests recognizes Godfrey as a fellow Harvard man. Godfrey silences him, but it seems that our butler is not who he seems to be. Between Irene’s crush on him and his unflappable demeanor, Cornelia decides to play dirty. She plants her pearls under his mattress and says they were stolen. But Godfrey is a clever man. He not only graduated from Harvard, but he lived on the streets. This family may be whacky and have a mean-spirited daughter, but maybe he can do some good. And the homeless camp at the dump might become useful.
My Man Godfrey was directed by Gregory LaCava. The movie was made at Universal Pictures, where the studio wanted Constance Bennett to star as Irene in the film. LaCava agreed but only if William Powell could be loaned out from MGM to play the part of Godfrey. But Powell’s had his contract state that he would play the role only if Carole Lombard played the part of Irene. Powell and Lombard had previously been married, but they got along well and he asked for her. LaCava and Powell didn’t agree on Godfrey’s role at first. So, they talked about it in Powell’s dressing room over a bottle of Scotch. The next day LaCava came to work with a major hangover. Powell didn’t show up at all. Later LaCava got a telegram from Powell: “We may have found Godfrey last night but we lost Powell. See you tomorrow.” My Man Godfrey became the first film to be nominated for four acting Oscars in all four acting categories for Best Actor: William Powell; Best Actress: Carole Lombard; Best Supporting Actor: Mischa Auer; and Best Supporting Actress: Alice Brady. The Supporting Actor Awards were new for that year. The film was also nominated for Best Film and for Best Writing, Screenplay. Although it didn’t win any Oscars, it remains one of the great screwball comedies of all time.