My Man Godfrey

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My Man Godfrey
Theatrical release poster by Karoly Grosz[1]
Directed byGregory La Cava
Screenplay byMorrie Ryskind
Eric Hatch
Contributing writers:
Zoë Akins
Robert Presnell Sr.
Based on1101 Park Avenue
1935 novel
by Eric Hatch
Produced byCharles R. Rogers
StarringWilliam Powell
Carole Lombard
CinematographyTed Tetzlaff
Edited byTed J. Kent
Russell F. Schoengarth
Music byCharles Previn
Rudy Schrager
(both uncredited)
Production
company
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • September 6, 1936 (1936-09-06)
Running time
94–95 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$575,375[3]
Box office$684,200[4]

My Man Godfrey is a 1936 American screwball comedy film directed by Gregory La Cava and starring William Powell and Carole Lombard, who had been briefly married years before appearing together in the film.[2][5] The screenplay for My Man Godfrey was written by Morrie Ryskind, with uncredited contributions by La Cava, based on 1101 Park Avenue, a short novel by Eric S. Hatch. The story concerns a socialite who hires a derelict to be her family's butler, and then falls in love with him.

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. The film was remade in 1957 with June Allyson and David Niven in the starring roles.

Plot[edit]

During the Great Depression, Godfrey Smith lives with other homeless men at a New York City dump in a Hooverville by the East River. One night, spoiled socialite Cornelia Bullock offers him $5 to be her "forgotten man" for a scavenger hunt. Godfrey refuses and makes Cornelia retreat and fall on a pile of ashes, much to the glee of her younger sister Irene. Godfrey finds Irene to be kind and offers to go with her to help her beat Cornelia and satisfy his curiosity regarding their scavenger hunt.

In the ballroom of the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel, Irene's businessman father Alexander Bullock waits resignedly, as his ditsy wife Angelica and her mooching protégé Carlo play the game. Godfrey is authenticated as a "forgotten man", allowing Irene to win that part of the hunt. Godfrey takes the opportunity to publicly express his contempt for the players' antics before leaving in a huff. An apologetic Irene decides to make him her protégé and hires him as the new family butler.

On his first day as butler, Godfrey is warned by the Bullocks' longtime maid Molly that he is merely the latest in a long line of butlers who did not last long due to the female Bullocks' antics. Despite this, Godfrey proves to be up to the challenge, though Cornelia holds a grudge against him. Irene becomes infatuated with Godfrey. He tries unsuccessfully to discourage her. She kisses him, causing him to politely but firmly outline the boundaries of their employee-employer relationship.

Eventually, Godfrey is recognized by his longtime friend Tommy Gray at a tea party thrown by Irene. Godfrey makes up a story that he was Tommy's valet at Harvard; Tommy plays along by embellishing Godfrey's story with a nonexistent wife and five children. Upon hearing this, Irene impulsively announces her engagement to a surprised Charlie Van Rumple, but breaks down in tears and flees after being congratulated by Godfrey. Over lunch the next day, Tommy wonders what one of the elite "Parkes of Boston" is doing as a servant. Godfrey explains that when he lost the woman he loved, he considered suicide, but the undaunted attitude of the homeless men living at the dump rekindled his spirits.

Eventually, Irene breaks her engagement with Charlie. Cornelia attempts to seduce Godfrey on his day off, but when he rebuffs her, she plants her pearl necklace under Godfrey's mattress and calls the police to report it missing. However, the police do not find the pearls under the mattress. Mr. Bullock realizes his daughter has orchestrated the whole thing and informs her that the pearls are not insured. The Bullocks send their daughters to Europe to help Irene get over her broken engagement to Charlie, but when they return, her feelings for Godfrey have not changed. Irene stages a fainting spell and swoons into Godfrey's arms, who soon discovers she is faking it. He puts her in the shower and turns on the cold water. This, however, has an unexpected result. She says, "Oh Godfrey, now I know you love me...You do or you wouldn't have lost your temper."

Godfrey quits. Before he leaves, Mr. Bullock throws Carlo out (literally) and tells his family that his business is in dire straits and he will likely go to jail. However, Godfrey provides good news: he had realized Mr. Bullock's situation, sold short, using some of the money raised by pawning Cornelia's pearl necklace to buy up the stock that Bullock had sold. He gives the stock back to Mr. Bullock, saving the family from financial ruin. Godfrey also returns the necklace to Cornelia, who humbly expresses her gratitude and remorse for her behavior.

With the rest of the money Godfrey got for Cornelia's necklace, he and Tommy become business partners and convert the now-filled-in dump into a fashionable nightclub called "The Dump", creating new jobs for the other homeless men, with a plan to build housing for them. A determined Irene tracks Godfrey down and convinces him to marry her.

Cast[edit]

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

Production[edit]

The film was based on a 1935 novel by Eric S. Hatch.[6] Charles Rogers, head of Universal, called it "a sure-fire laugh-getting novel". That studio purchased the film rights and assigned Hatch to write the script with Morrie Ryskind, who received top billing for the screenplay. Rogers hired Gregory La Cava to direct, "the best comedy director in Hollywood."[7]

Casting[edit]

It was the first major film from Universal after that studio had been taken over by new management, including head of production Charles Rogers. However the studio did not have any major stars under contract apart from Buck Jones, Boris Karloff and Edward Everett Horton, and needed to borrow some from other studios.[8]

The studio's original choice to play Irene, the part eventually played by Carole Lombard, was Constance Bennett, and Miriam Hopkins also was considered, but the director Gregory La Cava would only agree to Bennett if Universal borrowed William Powell from MGM. Powell, for his part, only would take the role if Carole Lombard played Irene. Powell and Lombard had divorced three years earlier, but remained good friends.[2][9]

Powell's casting was announced in January 1936.[10] Universal borrowed Lombard from Paramount. As part of the deal, Universal loaned Paramount's Margaret Sullavan for the film I Love a Soldier, and Lombard's clothes designer, Travis Banton, accompanied her.[11] Alice Brady joined the cast in March.[12]

Shooting[edit]

My Man Godfrey was in production from April 15 to May 27, 1936, and then had retakes in early June of the year.[2] Its budget was $575,375; Powell was paid $87,500 and Lombard $45,645.[3] The film was one of the first under the new regime of Charles Rogers at Universal, although it had been developed under his predecessor Carl Laemmle Jr.[3]

La Cava, 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, La Cava 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."[13]

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.[2][14]

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, along with four-letter words from Powell.[9][15]

Release and reception[edit]

It was the first film released under the aegis of Charles Rogers and was given a big premiere.[16] My Man Godfrey premiered on September 6, 1936, and was released in the United States on the 17th of September.[2] It was a runaway hit and earned huge profits for the studio.[13]

The movie was one of the most acclaimed comedies of 1936.[17][18] Writing for The Spectator in 1936, Graham Greene gave the film a moderately positive review, characterizing it as "acutely funny [for three-quarters of its way]". Particularly praising the scene of the scavenging party, Greene finds it to be "perhaps the wittiest, as well as noisiest, sequence of the year". Considering the end of the film, however, he notes that "the social conscience is a little confused" and he wishes for a more "dignified exit".[19]

Modern critics have also praised it as enduring amusement, and truth, and as a "landmark" icon of the 1930s screwball comedy film concept, and the overall craft of filmmaking.[9][15][20][21][22] In 2023, Time magazine selected it as one of the "100 Best Movies of the Last 10 Decades," placing it among "the greatest romantic comedies" to come out of that "decade full of terrific ones."[23]

"God, but this film is beautiful," declared critic Roger Ebert, who praised the cinematography as "a shimmering argument" for the virtues of films produced in black-and-white, rather than color. He praised the film, "the actors in it,... its style of production," even... "the system that produced it," as an escape from today's "pop culture of brainless vulgarity."[24]

Awards and honors[edit]

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1937 Academy Awards[25] Best Director Gregory La Cava Nominated
Best Actor William Powell Nominated
Best Actress Carole Lombard Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Mischa Auer Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Alice Brady Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind Nominated

My Man Godfrey was the first movie to be nominated in all four acting categories,[20] in the first year that supporting categories were introduced. It is also the only film in Oscar history to receive a nomination in all four acting categories and not be nominated for Best Picture. It was the only film to be nominated in these six categories and not receive any award until 2013's American Hustle.[14]

In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[26] In 2000, the film was ranked #44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 funniest comedies,[27] and Premiere voted it one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006.[28] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval score of 97% based on 37 reviews, with an average rating of 8.5/10. The site's consensus states: "A class satire in a class of its own, My Man Godfrey's screwball comedy is as sharp as the social commentary is biting."[29]

Public domain status[edit]

The original film is generally thought to have entered into the public domain in 1965 when the film's copyright was not renewed after 28 years.[30] However the underlying work, the 1935 book 1101 Park Avenue – re-titled My Man Godfrey with the film's release – had its copyright renewed in 1963 and is thus still in copyright.[31] According to Stanford University Library, and under rulings of Stewart v. Abend, in so-called multilayered works, the rights holder of the original work can claim ownership of the film script, though not the pictures, if the original book is still in copyright.[32] "Films are often based on books ... that may maintain copyright. If the pre-existing work is protected, then rightly or wrongly, it has generally been determined that the derived film is also protected."[33]

Home media[edit]

In 2002, a restored print was made available on DVD by The Criterion Collection, which featured a new cover illustrated by Michael Koelsch.[34] In 2005, 20th Century Fox Home Video released a colorized version. In September 2018, Criterion released the film on Blu-ray with new supplements.

Remakes and adaptations[edit]

My Man Godfrey was twice adapted as a one-hour radio broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre: on May 9, 1938, with David Niven playing the part of Tommy Gray;[14] and on November 9, 1954, with Jeff Chandler and Julie Adams.[35] It was also adapted to radio in a half-hour version on the October 2, 1946 episode of Academy Award Theater, again starring William Powell.[36] When the film was remade in 1957, David Niven played Godfrey opposite June Allyson, directed by Henry Koster.[37] A stage musical version of My Man Godfrey, produced by Allan Carr and written by librettists Alan Jay Lerner and Kristi Kane and composer Gerard Kenny, was intended for Broadway in 1985,[38] but remained uncompleted at the time of Alan Jay Lerner's death in 1986.[39]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nourmand, Tony; Marsh, Graham, eds. (2003). Film Posters of the 30s: The Essential Movies of the Decade. London: Aurum Press Limited. p. 8. ISBN 1-85410-938-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "My Man Godfrey (1936)". AFI Catalog. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  3. ^ a b c Dick, Bernard K. (2015). City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. p. 106. ISBN 9780813158891.
  4. ^ Sedgwick, John and Pokorny, Michael (February 2005) "The Film Business in the United States and Britain during the 1930s" in The Economic History Review New Series, v.58, n.1, pp.79-112
  5. ^ Wrigley, Charles (October 22, 2018). "10 Great Screwball Comedy Films". British Film Institute. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
  6. ^ Staff (October 27, 1935). "My Man Godfrey: by Eric Hatch. 243 pp. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. $2". The New York Times. p. BR24.
  7. ^ Staff (September 1, 1936). "Rogers Tells Secrets of Successful Film: Theory Illustrated by Method Used in New Production". Los Angeles Times. p. 11.
  8. ^ Associated Press (August 24, 1936). "Star Scarcity Still Is Acute Studio Problem: Only Fifty Real Winners in Harness and That Is Not Enough". The Washington Post. p. X9.
  9. ^ a b c Hutchinson, Pamela: "My streaming gem: why you should watch My Man Godfrey," April 24, 2020, The Guardian retrieved May 27, 2024
  10. ^ Staff (January 3, 1936). "New Films Announced: "Magnificent Obession" Heads Hit Parade". Los Angeles Times. p. A13.
  11. ^ Shaffer, George (March 14, 1936). "Boy Refuses to Wear Kilts for Film Scene: Believes Costume Is One for Little Girl". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 16.
  12. ^ "'John Barleycorn' by Jack London Will Be Made Into Picture". Los Angeles Times. 28 Mar 1936. p. 7.
  13. ^ a b McGillicuddy, Genevieve (ndg). "My Man Godfrey (1936)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  14. ^ a b c "My Man Godfrey (1936) - Trivia". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  15. ^ a b "Brother, Can You Spare a Job?," September 1, 2011, This Quarter in Film History, CineMontage, Motion Picture Editors Guild, retrieved May 27, 2024
  16. ^ "'My Man Godfrey' Premiere qt Pantages Tonight: Film First to Be Released Under Rogers". Los Angeles Times. September 1, 1936. p. 11.
  17. ^ Staff (January 7, 1937). "Nation's Critics Pick 10 Best Films". The New York Times. p. 17.
  18. ^ "My Man Godfrey," December 31, 1935, Variety, retrieved May 27, 2024
  19. ^ Greene, Graham (October 2, 1936). "Maria Bashkirtseff/My Man Godfrey". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. pp. 104–106. ISBN 0192812866.)
  20. ^ a b My Man Godfrey / The Philadelphia Story: "About the films," December 27, 2023, American Cinematheque, retrieved May 27, 2024
  21. ^ "My Man Godfrey,", April, 2024, Brooklyn Academy of Music, retrieved May 27, 2024
  22. ^ My Man Godfrey, June 2024, Pickford Film Center, retrieved May 27, 2024
  23. ^ "My Man Godfrey (1936)," in "100 Best Movies of the Past 10 Decades," July 26, 2023, Time, retrieved May 27, 2024
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger: "The man who came to buttle," May 29, 2008, "Great Movies," Roger Ebert.com, retrieved May 27, 2024
  25. ^ "The 9th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners." Academy Awards website. Retrieved: 9 August 2011.
  26. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on March 6, 2024. Retrieved April 1, 2024.
  28. ^ "Premiere Magazine's 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time". Filmsite. Archived from the original on August 12, 2023. Retrieved April 1, 2024.
  29. ^ My Man Godfrey at Rotten Tomatoes
  30. ^ Sinofsky, Esther Rita (1988). A copyright primer for educational and industrial media producers. Copyright Information Services. p. 29. ISBN 9780914143123. Retrieved January 20, 2016. But remember the underlying works may still be copyrighted
  31. ^ "My Man Godfry". Stanford University Copyright Renewal Database. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  32. ^ "Public Domain Trouble Spots: Multilayered Works". Stanford University Library. 4 April 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  33. ^ "Films in the US Public Domain". OpenFlix.com. Archived from the original on February 9, 2007. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  34. ^ "My Man Godfrey DVD Cover". CineMaterial. Archived from the original on June 12, 2020.
  35. ^ "Tuesday Radio Programs - Radio Highlights". Toledo Blade (Ohio). 1954-10-09. p. 4 (Peach Section). Retrieved 2021-05-04.
  36. ^ "Wednesday Selections". Toledo Blade (Ohio). 1946-10-02. p. 4 (Peach Section). Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  37. ^ "My Man Godfrey (1957)". AFI Catalog. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  38. ^ Nemy, Enid (March 19, 1985). "'My Man Godfrey' Bound for Broadway". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  39. ^ McHugh, Dominic, ed. (2014). Alan Jay Lerner: A Lyricist's Letters. Oxford University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780199949274 – via Google Books.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio