Monday, January 18, 2016

My Man Godfrey (1936) - Rhoades

Front Row at the Movies

“My Man Godfrey” Is Monday Night Classic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Sure, we can watch old movie classics on Netflix or TCM, but there’s something magical about seeing a movie on a big screen in a darkened theater. Tropic Cinema is celebrating Screwball Comedies this month. On Monday night, film maven Craig Wanous will host “My Man Godfrey,” starring William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Screwball comedy is a type of movie that became popular during the Great Depression. It is characterized by a battle of the sexes, farcical plots, funny repartee, and often a sense of cultural conflict.

Film critic Andrew Sarris once defined screwball comedy as “a sex comedy without the sex.”

“My Man Godfrey” fits those criteria as perfectly as a butler’s well-tailored suit.

You shouldn’t need any Spoiler Alerts for a movie that’s been part of American culture since 1936. The US Library of Congress declared “My Man Godfrey” culturally significant in 1999. And Premiere voted this movie as one of “The 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time.”

The improbable plot: Godfrey is a well-bred Bostonian who’s mistaken for a hobo. To get back at her snotty sister Cornelia, daffy socialite Irene hires Godfrey as the family butler. He takes the job as a lark, but finds himself in a tricky situation when Irene falls for him. Yes, he saves the family from financial ruin. Yes, Irene gets her man.

William Powell (you’ll remember him from “The Thin Man” movies) is teamed up with Carole Lombard (Powell’s ex-wife, later married to Clark Gable). The chemistry between the two -- the butler being standoffish, the socialite like a smitten kitten -- is a marvel of comedic acting. The director, the screenwriters and four leading members of the cast were nominated for Oscars, the first time that ever happened.

Although directed by Gregory La Cava, it may remind you a bit of the Preston Sturges comedy, “Sullivan’s Travels.” (Note: That’s showing the following week.) In both, a disillusioned man poses as a hobo in an effort to regain faith in his fellow man (and woman).

As Godfrey proclaims, “The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.” But in the end there’s more to it, the difference between social position and social conscience.

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