My Man Godfrey (1936)

She’s Electric, she’s in a family full of eccentrics.

Does a comedy film actually have to make you laugh? Can you have a comedy without any laughs in it? This was once a question posed by film critic Mark Kermode. When thinking of this question, the first movie which comes to my mind if My Man Godfrey, a comedy which I love but there are only a few moments during it which make me laugh and even those few aren’t big laughs, despite the movie’s crazy screwball, gorilla imitating antics in which the straight man William Powell enters a cartoon world. But I would still call it a comedy as it’s a movie which leaves you feeling melancholic watching it.

William Powell’s role as Godfrey exemplifies why he is the master of words. He can take any regular sounding lines and turn them into something memorable and when he speaks any unique piece of script writing, it’s like poetry. It’s easy to fall in love with Carole Lombard watching My Man Godfrey; she succeeds in playing a ditsy scatterbrain in an endearing manner but I feel the real unsung cast member of the film is Gail Patrick, one of the most underrated actresses of the 30’s; it’s a shame she never became an A-list leading lady. She became typecast playing (for lack of a better term) bitches, but could do so with a dose of humanity.

I love those moments which describe a ridiculous situation which are never caught on camera. The mental image of Carole Lombard riding into a mansion on a horse, going up the stairs and leaving it in the library is an image better left to my imagination. Let’s play grumpy old man and assume, oh say a Hangover sequel would not allow such a scene to be left to the viewer’s imagination and thus be unfunny as all hell.

Screwball comedy was all about making fun of the rich who caused the great depression; My Man Godfrey is probably the most harsh attack on the rich which the genre ever made, partially because of just how sombre the film is. The opening scene in which men are living in a shanty town by a dump or the scavenger hunt for bums or so called ‘forgotten men’ are shocking sights for any era. Likewise the Bullock family may be wealthy but they sure aren’t happy and don’t get along with each other.

My Man Godfrey wasn’t based on a stage play but watching it you might think otherwise as long stretches of the film take place in real time. Plus you get one thing almost unheard of in film’s prior to the 1950’s, an intricate title sequence. I consider My Man Godfrey along with You Can’t Take It With You as the two quintessential “kooky family” movies although “kooky” may be an understatement.

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