Godfrey Ordner Alt
Sometimes a second viewing changes everything. I sensed “My Man Godfrey” had more to it than I got from my first viewing last year, but I was not prepared for the revelation I went through last night. Not at all.
It all comes down to sound quality. The DVD I bought comes with a terrible sound quality and no subtitles to back it up. For a movie relying so much on dialogue as “My Man Godfrey” that is a disaster. I subscribe to a streaming service (Viaplay), mostly because I can get children programs in Danish for my son, but it also carry a large chunk of typically second rate films. For some unexplained reason one of the very few old films on Viaplay is “My Man Godfrey”. With excellent sound and subtitles. I am back in business!
This is flat out, hands down one of the best films of the thirties! It is so funny. This is a total laugh. Though I tried to restrain myself not to wake up the sleeping family I had to surrender when the airhead of a daughter, Irene, had brought home a horse driven taxi from town and left the horse in the library. From then on the smile never left my face as it erupted in laughter every few minutes.
“My Man Godfrey” is essentially a proof that it is possible to make an intelligent movie about stupid people. Godfrey (William Powell), a derelict from the city dump with a secret past, is the voyeur that takes us into the madhouse which is the Bullocks family. Even the manner in which he is introduced to the family is bizarre as he is picked out as a prize in a scavenger game the rich are playing. Godfrey becomes the butler of the family, partly because of Irene’s (Carole Lombard) infatuation with him and partly to spite her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick).
Whereas Godfrey is the personification of common sense, resolution, decency and honesty the rest of the family is not and it is this juxtaposition that makes this film so funny. We see the family through his incredulous eyes and because he actually understands them we see right through them as well as their idiocy is exposed. Godfrey is not directly mocking the family, he is much too decent for that, but there is a hint of razor sharp sarcasm that cuts right to the bone of it and in a few remarks or even just a glance he can undress anyone in the family and funny enough they love him for it. That is how elegant he is.
Irene is the airhead younger daughter. She is full of drama and lives in her own blissful bubble. In a sense innocent, but that is just because of her infantile idiocy. She is basically a 10 year old spoiled girl in an adult body. Pouting, throwing fits, faking faints and desperately trying to manipulate her surroundings. She loves the idea of being in love with Godfrey (a protégé she calls it) and when he gently but firmly refuses her advances she launces all her infantile guns to get what she wants. Carole Lombard handles this excellently. The countless situations where her attempts misfires or fizzles are a joy to watch and are extremely funny. Irene really has no clue what is going on around her.
Her sister Cornelia is smarter, but just as spoiled a brat. She tries to control everything her way and when she cannot get what she wants or is obstructed she turns to dirty tricks to get her way. She is intrigant and mean and takes a certain delight in exposing Irene. The fact that Godfrey is impervious to her infuriates her and she is doing her damnest to discredit him, simply because he she cannot control him. She may not be so funny in her own right, but the clashes with Godfrey are hilarious. We smirk when he tells her outright to her face what a spoiled brat she is. Guess nobody ever told her that before.
My favorite character is the mother, Angelica Bullock (Alice Brady). She is idiocy incarnate, but what a happy idiocy. If this is how fun it is to be an idiot and an ignorant I would not mind being one. Listening to her ranting, chiding people or just firing off meaningless remarks is so much fun. I lost count on the times she made me laugh. Really, she just needs to walk into a room and I light up. Talk about a person living in blissful ignorance. Mrs. Bullock has her own pet (protégé), an obscure sycophant named Carlo. He is supposed to be an artist, but it is clear to anybody (in glimpses even to Irene) but Angelica that he is just sucking the teat of the family. He is Angelica’s accessory item and hilarious at that.
The only sort of normal member of the family is the father Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette). His frustrations with his family spill over in sarcasm that has absolutely no impact on the rest of the family. His exasperation is, yes, you got it, just another notch to the hilarity of this film.
All these priceless characters are tied together in a rapid fire script that holds up its pace throughout. I have learned to appreciate this aspect as the hallmark of quality in the comedies of the thirties. If you can keep up with the dialogue it is so rewarding. While I saw it I kept telling myself that this or that line I just had to quote for my review, but they all drowned out, hell, the entire script is a worthy quote!
The purpose of the film is clearly to expose the silliness of the idle rich in the face of the misery a large chunk of the population was facing during the depression. On this background the idiocy of the Bullock family gains poignancy. It is so absurd what these people are doing, when just around the corner people are starving. “My Man Godfrey” was a huge hit at the box office likely for this reason. It is infuriating but also gratifying to watch the rich dig their own grave when you have nothing yourself and Godfrey is the anchor, the worthy character that the average dude can respect and relate to.
If there is a single item that grates on me in this film (yes, I know, but I cannot help it) it is the ending. Considering what Godfrey has learned at the bosom of the Bullock family and that he represent everything they are not, how on earth can he fall for Irene and let her talk him into marrying her? It is presented as the natural outcome, but I see nothing natural about it. The only way I can rationalize it is that finally after all the internal exposure he has submitted the family to they are now coming back at him to get their revenge. He will have to live with that bunch of loonies for the rest of his life.
But never mind. I truly loved watching this film a second time. This will NOT be the last time.