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With: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, Alan Mowbray, Jean Dixon, Mischa Auer
Written by: Morrie Ryskind, Eric Hatch, based on a novel by Eric Hatch
Directed by: Gregory La Cava
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 93
Date: 09/06/1936

My Man Godfrey (1936)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Forgotten Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Gregory La Cava was a master of the sustained comedy. He was not as showy or elegant as Ernst Lubitsch, or as manic as Howard Hawks or Leo McCarey, or as wicked as Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder, or as ambitious as Frank Capra. But he took good material, and comptently and efficiently fleshed it out. He was the maker of at least three superior works: Gabriel Over the White House (1933), Stage Door (1937), and My Man Godfrey.

William Powell turns in an infectious performance as Godfrey, the "forgotten man" who lives on a garbage heap. The remarkable Carole Lombard and her crazy family show up, in the middle of a scavenger hunt, to try and collect Godfrey for points. Godfrey tells them all where to go, but Lombard likes his spunk and hires him as a butler. While seemingly doing nothing, Godfrey then manages to turn the entire madhouse right side-up. Director La Cava, screenwriters Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind, and actors Powell, Lombard, Mischa Auer, Alice Brady, were all nominated for Oscars. But for my money, the great bullfrog-voiced character actor Eugene Pallette steals the movie as the head of the Bullock family.

La Cava imbued My Man Godfrey with the gift of being a "socially conscious" movie but hid his message neatly in the context of a brilliant and rousing comedy. The Academy could therefore reward the movie with Oscar nominations and still feel good about itself, while audiences could watch the movie and simply have a good time. La Cava was quite good at this trick, as Gabriel Over the White House and Stage Door will attest.

DVD Details: The Criterion Collection's My Man Godfrey disc comes from a duplicate negative, but it's a jaw-droppingly beautiful black-and-white transfer, putting a sharpness and contrast back into the picture that most likely hasn't been seen in 70 years. I'd put my money down that this is as good as it gets. Other extras include a commentary track by film historian Bob Gilpin, outtakes, the 1938 Lux Radio Theater adaptation, starring Powell and Lombard, production stills, a trailer and optional English subtitles. Beware inferior, public domain DVDs.

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