Every now and then, it's good to remember why we love a film. So it is with arguably the greatest screwball of them all, "My Man Godfrey," starring my favorite Golden Age actress and actor, Carole Lombard and William Powell. Above is the front page of a two-page Universal advertising spread in the Sept. 5, 1936 Motion Picture Herald, days before its premiere at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
(The reference to the "new" Universal concerns the newly-installed post-Laemmle family ownership of the studio. "Godfrey" was one of the movies the new brass hoped would revitalize Universal's stodgy image.)
Last Friday -- the day Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. ran "Godfrey" and others directed by Gregory La Caca -- the progressive British paper The Guardian extolled the praises of "Godfrey" in what it calls "My streaming gem," a "series of writers recommending underseen films available to stream. The newspaper labeled it "a sly screwball comedy from 1936."
Pamela Hutchinson's lead paragraph:
"Sometimes escapist films only need to take the audience a few steps, or city blocks, from reality. Gregory La Cava's 'My Man Godfrey,' a peerless comedy from Hollywood's Golden Age, is a screwball with a social conscience. This 1936 classic is a glamorous 90 minutes of frivolity that doesn't do so much explore the divided society of the Great Depression, as take the imbalance of the haves and have-nots as the launchpad for a series of grimly bitter jokes. With slammers of punchlines."
Yes, "Godfrey" could be the unofficial movie of the "Occupy" movement, though neither presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden nor his former chief rival Bernie Sanders had been born when it first ran; neither is quite that old. (Both might have seen it on the "late show" in their adolescent years.)
Hutchinson writes, "The humour in 'My Man Godfrey' is madcap, but in the best way, and the main source of comedy is the vulgar behavior of the spoiled, witless Bullock family. Their zigzagging conversations are filled with entertaining gibberish about proteges and pets, until their disregard for the wellbeing of those who work for them becomes as ridiculous as it is mean."
She also notes La Cava liked to improvise dialogue on the set. Hutchinson quotes Lombard as saying any fan of the film should "credit 75 percent of it to Gregory La Cava, who directed it, wrote all the dialogue, and literally gave birth to it."
Perhaps so, but "Godfrey" was orphaned by the Academy Awards, going 0-for-6, including losses in all four acting categories, Lombard, Powell, Alice Brady and Mischa Auer..
Hutchinson calls Carole's Irene Bullock character "one of the best of a bad bunch: sincere if stupid, kind-hearted if misguided," adding "Lombard remains the queen of the screwball subgenre, and her Irene, who talks, and acts, in an outlandish stream of consciousness, is one of her finest creations." As exquisite a creation as the Travis Banton gown we first see her in:
Read Hutchinson's observations at https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/apr/24/my-man-godfrey-comedy-1936-film.