My Man Godfrey

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My Man Godfrey
My man godfrey.jpg
Theatrical Film Poster
Directed by Gregory La Cava
Produced by Gregory La Cava
Written by Eric Hatch
Morrie Ryskind
Gregory LaCava (uncredited)
Starring William Powell
Carole Lombard
Music by Charles Previn
Rudy Schrager
(both uncredited)
Cinematography Ted Tetzlaff
Edited by Ted J. Kent
Russell F. Schoengarth
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s)
  • September 6, 1936 (1936-09-06)
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $656,000 (est.)

My Man Godfrey is a 1936 American comedy-drama film directed by Gregory La Cava. The screenplay was written by Morrie Ryskind, with uncredited contributions by La Cava, based on 1011 Fifth, a short novel by Eric Hatch. The story concerns a socialite who hires a derelict to be her family's butler, only to fall in love with him, much to his dismay. The film stars William Powell and Carole Lombard.

The film was remade in 1957 with June Allyson and David Niven in the starring roles. In 1999, the original version of My Man Godfrey was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Plot[edit]

Source:[1]

During the Great Depression, Godfrey "Smith" Parke (William Powell) is living alongside other men down on their luck at the city dump. One night, spoiled socialite Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) offers him five dollars to be her "forgotten man" for a scavenger hunt. Annoyed, he advances on her, causing her to retreat and fall on a pile of ashes. She leaves in a fury, much to the glee of her younger sister, Irene (Carole Lombard). After talking with her, Godfrey finds her to be kind, if a bit scatter-brained. He offers to go with Irene to help her beat Cornelia.

In the ballroom of the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel, Irene's long-suffering businessman father, Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), waits resignedly as his ditsy wife, Angelica (Alice Brady), and her mooching "protégé" Carlo (Mischa Auer) play the frivolous game. Godfrey arrives and is "authenticated" by the scavenger hunt judge as a "forgotten man". He then addresses the idle rich, expressing his contempt for their antics. Irene is apologetic and offers him a job as the family butler, which he gratefully accepts.

The next morning, Godfrey is shown what to do by the sardonic, wise-cracking maid, Molly (Jean Dixon), the only servant who has been able to put up with the antics of the family. She warns him that he is just the latest in a long line of butlers. Only slightly daunted, he proves to be surprisingly competent, although Cornelia still holds a sizable grudge. On the other hand, Irene considers Godfrey to be her protégé, and is thrilled by his success.

A complication arises when a guest, Tommy Gray (Alan Mowbray), greets Godfrey familiarly as an old friend. Godfrey quickly ad-libs that he was Tommy's valet at school. Tommy plays along, mentioning Godfrey's non-existent wife and five children. Dismayed, Irene impulsively announces her engagement to the surprised Charlie Van Rumple (Grady Sutton), but she soon breaks down in tears and flees after being politely congratulated by Godfrey.

Over lunch the next day, Tommy is curious to know what one of the elite "Parkes of Boston" is doing as a servant. Godfrey explains that a broken love affair had left him considering suicide, but the optimistic, undaunted attitude of the men living at the dump rekindled his spirit.

Meanwhile, when everything she does to make Godfrey's life miserable fails, Cornelia sneaks into his room and plants her pearl necklace under his mattress. She then calls the police to report her "missing" jewelry. To Cornelia's surprise, the pearls do not turn up, even when she suggests they check Godfrey's bed. Mr. Bullock realizes his daughter has orchestrated the whole thing and sees the policemen out.

The Bullocks then send their daughters off to Europe to get Irene away from Godfrey. When they return, Cornelia implies that she intends to seduce Godfrey. Worried, Irene stages a fainting spell and falls into Godfrey's arms. He carries her to her bed, but while searching for smelling salts, he realizes she's faking when he sees her (in a mirror) sit up briefly. In revenge, he puts her in the shower and turns on the cold water full blast. Far from quenching her attraction, this merely confirms her hopes: "Oh Godfrey, now I know you love me...You do or you wouldn't have lost your temper."

When confronted by the rest of the family, Godfrey quits. But Mr. Bullock has more pressing concerns. He first has a private "little chat" with Carlo, throwing the freeloader out through a side window. He then announces that his business is in dire financial straits and that he might even be facing criminal charges. Godfrey interrupts with unexpected good news: realizing Mr. Bullock's problems, Godfrey had sold short, using money raised by pawning Cornelia's necklace and then buying up the stock that Bullock had sold. He gives the endorsed stock certificates to the stunned Mr. Bullock, thus saving the family from financial ruin. He also returns the necklace to a humbled Cornelia, who apologizes for her attempt to frame him. Afterwards, Godfrey takes his leave.

With the rest of his stock profits and reluctant business partner Tommy Gray's backing, Godfrey has built a fashionable nightclub at the dump called "The Dump", "...giving food and shelter to fifty people in the winter, and giving them employment in the summer." Godfrey tells Tommy he quit being the Bullocks' butler because "he felt that foolish feeling coming along again." Later on, though, Irene tracks him down and bulldozes him into marriage and the movie ends with her saying, "Stand still, Godfrey, it'll all be over in a minute."

Cast[edit]

Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer and Alice Brady in My Man Godfrey.

Cast notes:

Production[edit]

My Man Godfrey was in production from April 15 to May 27, 1936, and then had retakes in early June of the year. Its estimated budget was $656,000.[2]

The studio's original choice to play "Irene", the part eventually played by Carole Lombard, was Constance Bennett, and Miriam Hopkins was also considered, but the director, Gregory LaCava, would only agree to Bennett if Universal borrowed William Powell from MGM. Powell, for his part, would only take the role if Carole Lombard played "Irene". Powell and Lombard had divorced three years earlier.[3]

LaCava, a former animator and freelancer for most of his film career, held studio executives in contempt, and was known to be a bit eccentric. When he and Powell hit a snag over a disagreement about how Godfrey should be portrayed, they settled things over a bottle of Scotch. The next morning, LaCava showed up for shooting with a headache, but Powell didn't appear. Instead, the actor sent a telegram stating: "WE MAY HAVE FOUND GODFREY LAST NIGHT BUT WE LOST POWELL. SEE YOU TOMORROW."[4]

Morrie Ryskind, who wrote the screenplay, also had some unorthodox working habits. On Godfrey, he improvised dialogue on the set with the leading actors and the director, and would rewrite and reshape scenes on the set.[4]

Due to insurance considerations a stand-in stuntman (Chick Collins) was used when Godfrey carried Irene over his shoulder up the stairs to her bedroom.[5]

When tensions hit a high point on the set, Lombard had a habit of inserting four letter words into her dialogue, often to the great amusement of the cast. This made shooting somewhat difficult, but clips of her cursing in her dialogue and messing up her lines can still be seen in blooper reels.[4]

Release[edit]

My Man Godfrey premiered on September 6 1936, and was released in the United States on the 17th of September.[6] It was a runaway hit and earned huge profits for the studio.[4]

Awards and recognition[edit]

My Man Godfrey was nominated for six Academy Awards:

My Man Godfrey was the first movie to be nominated in all four acting categories, in the first year that supporting categories were introduced. It's also the only film in Oscar history to receive a nomination in all four acting categories and not be nominated for Best Picture, and was the only film to be nominated in these six categories and not receive an award until 2013, when American Hustle did the same thing.[5]

In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 2000, the film was ranked #44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 funniest comedies, and Premiere magazine voted it one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006. It is one of the few movies that hold 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Also, in the WB's "Gilmore Girls" episode Say Something (S05E14) Luke is seen watching My Man Godfrey in the Black, White, and Red movie theatre. When Lorelai asks Luke what he's watching, he replies, "Something stupid."

American Film Institute recognition

Sequels and adaptations[edit]

My Man Godfrey was adapted for radio and broadcast on Lux Radio Theater on May 9 1938, with David Niven playing the part of Tommy Gray.[5] It was adapted again on the October 2, 1946 episode of Academy Award Theater, again starring William Powell. When the film was remade in 1957, David Niven played Godfrey opposite June Allyson, directed by Henry Koster.[7][8]

Video availability[edit]

In 2002, a restored print was made available on DVD by The Criterion Collection. In 2005, 20th Century Fox Home Video released a colorized version. The original film has lapsed copyright and is freely available to download.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/5794/My-Man-Godfrey/full-synopsis.html
  2. ^ TCM Overview, IMDB Business Data
  3. ^ TCM Notes
  4. ^ a b c d Genevieve McGillicuddy "My Man Godfrey" (TCM article)
  5. ^ a b c IMDB Trivia
  6. ^ IMDB Release Dates
  7. ^ My Man Godfrey at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ TCM's Notes for the 1936 film reports that in 1985 Allan Carr created a Broadway stage production based on the movie, but this is not borne out by a search of the Internet Broadway Database.

External links[edit]


Streaming audio