Gregory La Cava’s “My Man Godfrey” is one of the 1930s most enchanting screwball comedies, a movie that alludes directly to the context of the Depression in which it was made, addressing issues of morality and social class (the haves and haves not) even if at end it goes for an ideological compromise.
Toplined by tw major stars, William Powell, at the height of his career, and Carol Lombard, the film benefits from an extremely talented ensemble of charcters actors, inlcuding Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Gil Patrick, and Mischa Auer.
The screenplay, penned by Morrie Ryskind and Eric Hatch was based on Hatch’s short novel,”1011 Fifth Avenue. At the center of the tale is a wildly rich, eccentric family, headed by Cornelia (Alice Brady) and Alexander (Eugene Pallette). Their two daughters, flighty social debutantes, Irene (Lombard) and Cornelia (Patrick) go on a scavenger hunt to find “the fogotten man,” who they intend to add to their collection of articles that include Japanese golfish and tennis rackets. In a neighborhood near the East River, they encounter Godfrey (Powell), a poor bearded man, surronded by tar paper shacks and smloking debris. Offended, Godfrey humiliated the snobbish Cornelia, wich delights Irene.
Godfrey agrees to appear at the party as Irene’s “forgotten man,” and she is announced as the contest’s winner. After Godfrey’s reproaching speech, Irene, feeling guilty, offers him a job as the family butler. From that point on, the tale spirals in various hilrious and poignant directions, including a disclosure that Godfrey is actually a Harvard grad. A love affair had brought him to the brink of suicide, but the upbeat, optimistic approach of the poor and unemployed had rekindled in spirit, restoring his belief in a better future for humanity. Soon, the rational and intelligent Godfrey affects each member of the zany family, restoring the kind of stability and order they had never experienced.
The entertaining film was both a commercial and critical success, with six Oscar nominations (but no wins).
Oscar Nominations: 6
Director: Gregory La Cava
Actor: William Powell
Actress: Carole Lombard
Supporting Actor: Mischa Auer
Supporting Actress: Alice Brady
Oscar Awards: None
“My Man Godfrey” is the firstfilm to receive nominations in all four acting categories, though it failed to gaina Best Picture nomination.
It’s noteworthy that Powell made four movies in 1936: “The Great Ziegfeld,” which undeservedly won the Best Picture Oscar, “Libeled Lady,” “After the Thin Man,” again with Myrna Loy, and “My Man Godfrey.”
Stay away from the 1957 remake with David Niven as the “forgotten man,” and June Allyson in the Lombard character.