My Man Godfrey (1936)
“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 has gotten to me this week with five consecutive films I had never seen before. I ended the week with this title as I was familiar with it and knew that it was one of her biggest hits. It’s actually the only film that the Academy ever nominated her for. With all do respect to Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld, one should always remember that comedy roles seldom get the prize.
Right from the opening scene the stage is set for competition between Carole and Gail Patrick. They’re sisters on a scavenger hunt and are looking for a homeless man to bring back with them and capture first prize. They stumble on a unique individual in William Powell. He looks the part of a bum in a crumbling house project but as we will soon see, he’s a rather educated bum with a knack for reading people.
From the first moment he lays eyes on Patrick, they’re at odds which endears him all the more to Carole. She adopts him right then and there. Wins the contest and hires him as the family butler. It seems the Lombard family led by Eugene Pallette are a rather eccentric bunch and can’t keep a butler for very long. To be honest, they are down right nutty! Look no further that Alice Brady as Carole’s mother and Mischa Auer as a crazed house guest.
For this free spirited soul, Carole is a chatterbox with rapid fire delivery. Full of life when excited. Drama queen when things are not going her way. It doesn’t matter because her performance here is a winner. It’s impossible not to fall for her character here or in essence, Carole herself.
While Carole is exploding on screen, Powell underplays everything which levels the playing field and keeps us the viewer from being overwhelmed with this group of idiotic characters. He is perfectly sarcastic at times. As the plot develops, Alan Mowbray turns up to shed some light on Powell’s past thus letting us in on his secret.
He’s trying to fend off the puppy love advances of Carole while at the same time stay one step ahead of conniving Patrick. She’s out to show sister Carole that she can either have her way with Powell or expose him as a thief. Powell has his hands full. So much so that as the film winds down and it’s time to move on he surprises everyone with his attitude and confession about what he’s learned from this rather childish group of characters. They in turn see more of a man than they ever dreamed of right under their noses.
This is screwball comedy at it’s peak. We can thank Carole Lombard for that. I often use the expression “I fell in love with” and that I did this week. With Miss Lombard. In the past I had never really focused on her films so I was long overdue. Her enthusiasm on screen has brightened my week. It’s very easy to see why she was so popular in her day and why the world mourned her tragic passing.
The film garnered Oscar nominations all around but no victories. Powell for Best Actor. Lombard. Alice Brady for Supporting Actress. Auer for Supporting Actor. Gregory LaCava for direction and the team of Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind for screenplay.
It’s ironic of course that Lombard and Powell made such a great team here. In real life they had already been married and divorced. By this time Powell was romancing Jean Harlow and Carole would soon become Mrs. Gable. I’ve still got a few more titles of Carole’s to catch up on and will be sure to include my thoughts on them here as well when I get around to them.
To end this enjoyable week I thought I’d close with the final line of this film. It said so much about her whimsical character opposite Powell’s low key opposite. “Stand still Godfrey. It’ll all be over in a moment.”