Again I have found myself watching a film thanks to the You Must Remember This podcast. The episode in question was about the life and tragic death of Carole Lombard and how, despite dying at the tender age of 33, she managed to become a name worth remembering.
It has been so long since I saw a comedy for this list (and even then Prizzi’s Honor feels like it probably shouldn’t count), especially a good old-fashioned screwball comedy. It’s so gratifying to know that there are still some very funny films left for me to see on the 1001 list. Although I wonder how many there are that will have me laughing out loud like My Man Godfrey did.
The whole set-up of this film is rather preposterous. During a scavenger hunt, socialite Irene (Carole Lombard) pays a homeless man to help her win and outdo her sister. As a way of showing her gratitude she gives him, the titular Godfrey (William Powell), a job as the family’s new butler. The family is insane, Godfrey isn’t all he appears to be and Irene is a lovable attention seeker.
There was a real fashion in the late 1930s to have comedies that send up the richer classes as being utterly ridiculous people. If you remember that this was the time that America was still having to deal with the Great Depression then it makes sense that the public would want to take the richer classes down a peg or two. The Best Picture win for You Can’t Take It With You in 1938 is a testament to how much of a trend this was… despite the fact that it is nowhere near as good as My Man Godfrey. However, you can only go against what is presented to you.
Powell and Lombard, who had been through an amicable divorce a few years before this was filmed, work fantastically well as a double act. It’s almost on the level that Powell reached with Myrna Loy in The Thin Man, but not quite. However, using The Thin Man as a benchmark, My Man Godfrey is a much tighter production with a madcap ending and a fawning Spaniard being thrown off a balcony. Honestly, who could ask for more.