My Man Godfrey

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My Man Godfrey
My Man Godfrey (1936 poster - Style C).jpg
theatrical release poster by Karoly Grosz[1]
Directed byGregory La Cava
Produced byCharles R. Rogers
Screenplay byMorrie Ryskind
Eric Hatch
Contributing writers:
Zoë Akins
Robert Presnell Sr.
Based on1101 Park Avenue
1935 novel
by Eric Hatch
StarringWilliam Powell
Carole Lombard
Music byCharles Previn
Rudy Schrager
(both uncredited)
CinematographyTed Tetzlaff
Edited byTed J. Kent
Russell F. Schoengarth
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" Parke is living with other men down on their luck at a New York City dump in a Hooverville on the East River near the 59th Street Bridge. One night, spoiled socialite Cornelia Bullock offers him $5 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. After talking with her, Godfrey finds her to be kind and 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 waits resignedly as his ditsy wife Angelica and her mooching protégé Carlo play the game. Godfrey arrives and is authenticated as a "forgotten man". He then addresses the crowd, expressing his contempt for their antics. Irene is apologetic and offers him a job as the family butler, which he gratefully accepts.

Godfrey is shown what to do by the Bullocks' wise-cracking maid Molly. She warns him that he is merely the latest in a long line of butlers. Godfrey proves to be surprisingly competent. Cornelia holds a grudge against Godfrey, and Irene considers him her protégé.

Tommy Gray, a lifelong friend of Godfrey, recognizes him working at a tea party thrown by Irene. Godfrey quickly ad-libs that he was Tommy's valet at Harvard. Tommy plays along, embellishing Godfrey's story with a nonexistent wife and five children. Dismayed, Irene impulsively announces her engagement to the surprised Charlie Van Rumple, but she soon breaks down in tears and flees after being 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 left him considering suicide, but the undaunted attitude of the men living at the dump rekindled his spirits. Cornelia has her boyfriend "Faithful George" call Tommy to the telephone, then she approaches Godfrey and attempts to negotiate a peace — but only on her terms. Godfrey declines.

Having failed to make Godfrey's life miserable, Cornelia plants her pearl necklace under his mattress, then calls the police. When the police do not find the pearls in Godfrey's suite, Mr. Bullock realizes his daughter has orchestrated the whole thing. He informs Cornelia she had better find her uninsured pearls.

The Bullocks send their daughters to Europe to get Irene away from her now-broken engagement. 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 room, but realizes she is faking when he sees her reflection sit up briefly. In revenge, he puts her in a cold shower, which merely confirms her hopes: "Oh Godfrey, now I know you love me ... You do or you wouldn't have lost your temper." Godfrey resigns as the Bullocks' butler.

Mr. Bullock has more pressing concerns. He throws Carlo out, then announces to his family and Godfrey that his business is failing and he might face criminal charges. Godfrey interrupts with good news: He had sold short, using money raised by pawning Cornelia's necklace, and used some of his profits to buy the stock that Bullock had sold. He gives the stock to the stunned Mr. Bullock, saving the family, then returns the necklace to a humbled Cornelia. Godfrey then leaves.

With his remaining profits and Tommy as a business partner, Godfrey builds The Dump, a fashionable nightclub, creating jobs for 50 people. A determined Irene finds him and bulldozes him into marriage, 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
Clip from My Man Godfrey (1936), which earned Lombard and Powell Academy Award nominations

Production[edit]

The film was based on a 1935 article 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 only would 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.[2]

Powell's casting was announced in January 1936.[9] Universal borrowed Lombard from Paramount. As part of the deal, Universal loaned Paramount Margaret Sullivan for the film I Love a Soldier and Lombard's clothes designer, Travis Banton, accompanied her.[10]

Alice Brady joined the cast in March.[11]

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, and 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 Jnr.[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."[12]

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][13]

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.

Release and reception[edit]

It was the first film released under the aegis of Charles Rogers and was given a big premiere.[14]

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.[12]

The movie was one of the most acclaimed comedies of 1936.[15]

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".[16]

Awards and honors[edit]

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1937 Academy Awards[17] 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, 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 any award until 2013's American Hustle.[13]

In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[18] In 2000, the film was ranked #44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 funniest comedies, and Premiere voted it one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 100% with an average rating of 8.3/10 with the consensus stating: "A class satire in a class of its own, My Man Godfrey's screwball comedy is as sharp as the social commentary is biting."

Public domain status[edit]

The original film is generally thought to have lapsed into the public domain due to a failure to renew the film's copyright after 28 years.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] "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."[22]

Home video[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.

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.[13] 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.[23] 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,[24] but remained uncompleted at the time of Alan Jay Lerner's death in 1986.[25]

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 g "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.
  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. ^ Staff (January 3, 1936). "New Films Announced: "Magnificent Obession" Heads Hit Parade". Los Angeles Times. p. A13.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "'John Barleycorn' by Jack London Will Be Made Into Picture". Los Angeles Times. 28 Mar 1936. p. 7.
  12. ^ a b McGillicuddy, Genevieve (ndg). "My Man Godfrey (1936)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c "My Man Godfrey (1936) - Trivia". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  14. ^ "'My Man Godfrey' Premiere qt Pantages Tonight: Film First to Be Released Under Rogers". Los Angeles Times. September 1, 1936. p. 11.
  15. ^ Staff (January 7, 1937). "Nation's Critics Pick 10 Best Films". The New York Times. p. 17.
  16. ^ 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.)
  17. ^ "The 9th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners." Academy Awards website. Retrieved: 9 August 2011.
  18. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  19. ^ Sinofsky, Esther Rita (1988). A copyright primer for educational and industrial media producers. Copyright Information Services. p. 29. Retrieved January 20, 2016. But remember the underlying works may still be copyrighted
  20. ^ "My Man Godfry". Stanford University Copyright Renewal Database. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  21. ^ "Public Domain Trouble Spots: Multilayered Works". Stanford University Library. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  22. ^ "Films in the US Public Domain". OpenFlix.com. Archived from the original on February 9, 2007. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  23. ^ "My Man Godfrey (1957)". AFI Catalog. Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  24. ^ Nemy, Enid (March 19, 1985). "`My Man Godfrey` Bound for Broadway". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  25. ^ 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