Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Director: Gregory La Cava                               Writers: Morrie Ryskind & Eric Hatch
Film Score: Charles Previn                              Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Starring: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Eugene Pallatte and Gail Patrick

William Powell is best know for his Thin Man series at MGM and, prior to that, his teaming with Kay Francis at Warner Brothers. But his most famous single role has to be Godfrey “Duke” Parkes, the homeless man cum butler in Universal’s My Man Godfrey. It’s an amusing little screwball comedy with Powell acting as the straight man to a rich family of eccentrics. One night in the dump below the Brooklyn Bridge, a group of socialites comes down and offers Powell five dollars to participate in their scavenger hunt. He would be the “forgotten man” that would win the prize for them. Powell takes offense at this and shoves Gail Patrick into a pile of ashes, much to the delight of her younger sister Carole Lombard. Powell takes a liking to Lombard, however, and helps her win the prize. In return, she hires him as the family’s butler.

Powell’s dry humor serves him well in the Bullock family. Lombard, the youngest daughter, is in love with Powell, but he gently informs her of the rules of propriety in the situation and she promptly has a breakdown and gets engaged to one of her society friends. Meanwhile Gail Patrick, the oldest daughter, is scheming of a way to get Powell fired to pay him back for pushing her down when they first met. Eugene Pallatte, the father, is having a financial crisis that Powell offers to help him with but is promptly rebuffed. And mother Alice Brady is simply wacky, bringing a pianist who can’t stop eating into the family to be her “protégé.” There’s really little else to the plot, until Alan Mowbray shows up and almost spills the beans about Powell’s true identity. At that point it makes a lot more sense to the audience about this incredibly intelligent “bum.”

Powell is his usually urbane and ironic self, just out of his terrific performance in Academy Award winning The Great Ziegfeld. Powell had been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in The Thin Man two years earlier, and was given another nomination for this performance. Carole Lombard was not the first choice of Universal or director Gregory La Cava, but Powell made it a condition of his contract that his ex-wife be given the part. It works, to an extent, but I find Lombard’s performance a little over done as the spoiled rich girl. Her histrionics in the film are, of course, faked and it seems to me that takes some of the believability out of her performance as a whole. The supporting cast is solid, if not especially memorable, the one exception being the great Eugene Pallatte. My Man Godfrey is definitely an enjoyable film, and though it’s not one of the finest examples of the genre, it’s pedigree is certainly elevated by the presence of one of the all time greats, William Powell.

No comments:

Post a Comment