My Man Godfrey (1936)

<strong class="MovieTitle">My Man Godfrey</strong> (1936)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) There’s a good reason why My Man Godfrey comes up again and again on lists of classic 1930s comedies—it impeccably charming, and still oozes class and cool even eighty years later. The star of the show, of course, is William Powell, who’s unflappable as a homeless man plucked out of the scrap heap by a rich family on a dare, and who eventually becomes an all-knowing, all-capable butler to a quirky dysfunctional family. It’s a kind of suave character that he’d play many times later on, and you can see why. Carole Lombard is just as good in her own way as a flighty socialite, and they play off each other beautifully: neither would be as funny without the dynamic created by the other. While incredibly accessible to modern audiences, My Man Godfrey does remain a clear product of the mid-1930s—there’s an oblique reference to the Dionne quintuplets, for instance, and the film does start by taking for granted a social situation that would only exist in Depression-era America. Surprisingly enough for Depression-era Hollywood, there is a fair amount of class critique here (after all, the film does begin with a treasure hunt in which one of the collectibles in a homeless man), with the deck clearly stacked against the rich characters. (It can’t quite reconcile its populist intent with its escapism.) Interestingly enough, though, much of the humour in My Man Godfrey isn’t in the one-liners or crazy situation as much as it’s found in the coolness and eccentricity of the characters, with a little bit of physical comedy thrown in. The script is a bit rough around the edges—the beginning is a bit much to take, and the ending has pieces falling together so quickly that it becomes unconvincing—but the result is one great film, one that has aged gracefully as a terrific product of its era.

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