My Man Godfrey (1936, Gregory La Cava)

On a drunken socialite scavenger hunt, Irene picks up “forgotten man” Godfrey at the dump. He asks her for a job, and she hires him as the family butler. A shave and a new suit later, he shows up at the house, gets shown around by the maid Molly, introduced to dizzy & spacy Irene, mean & nasty sister Cornelia, their eccentric mother, frustrated father, and an artist named Carlo who just hangs around. Irene and Molly are hot for Godfrey, Cornelia wants to get rid of him, and he seems too smart to be a regular bum.

But aha, Godfrey is a Harvard business man who gave away all his money to live free, and after regaining his self-respect by being a good butler, he takes the jewels that Cornelia tries to plant to get him arrested, pawns ’em, makes a fortune on some stock deals, bails out the broke father (after dad hurls Carlo through a window), then gets Cornelia back her necklace. Godfrey opens a happenin’ joint called The Dump, hires his old dump buddies, Irene follows him to his office and marries him by force.

Plot description doesn’t sound amazing, but it’s a screwball comedy… the fun is in watching smooth pencil-mustached Godfrey (post-Thin Man William Powell) deal with daffy Irene (post-Twentieth Century Carole Lombard) and Cornelia (pre-Stage Door Gail Patrick), surrounded by the unflappable mom (post-Gay Divorcee Alice Brady), furious dad (big, frog-voiced Eugene Pallette, pre-Lady Eve), sadsack Molly (pre-You Only Live Once Jean Dixon), easily-spooked Carlo (pre-You Can’t Take It With You Mischa Auer) and their boring harvard friend Tommy Gray (John Ford regular Alan Mowbray) who doesn’t actually add to the fun, he’s just around as a plot contrivance. Other than Gray, everyone here is wonderful and the writing is super. The whole harvard-dump thing struck me a little wrong, but it’s a depression-era cheer-up madcap comedy so I let it go. Would happily watch this again. Katy liked it too but complained that it wasn’t one of the greatest comedies of all time, because she can’t just walk away happy from a movie for some reason.

Former cartoonist La Cava’s 160th movie, if IMDB is to be believed, and the co-writer worked on three Marx Brothers movies. I looked for Frank Tashlin-esque cartoony bits but couldn’t find any. Movie got acting nominations in all four categories, plus directing and writing at the oscars, but won nothing. Within a decade, Lombard and Brady were dead and Patrick, Pallette and Dixon were retired. Didn’t seem like a cast that was on the way out the door. Movie was remade in the 50’s with David Niven, June Allyson and Eva “Green Acres” Gabor.

M. Kennedy at Bright Lights: “Repeatedly, La Cava and company serve up the rich as silly, frivolous, childlike, and trivial, while the poor are strong, dignified, generous, and compassionate. Miraculously, he gives us these elemental distinctions without the torpor of penny-ante philosophizing or the goo of Capraesque speechifying.”

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