Sunday, December 7, 2014
My Man Godfrey
The film itself is a classic. A perfectly cast piece of 1930’s pseudo-fluff about the worth of people and how the rich don’t quite get it. It would seem to be a kind of depression fantasy but it is in reality something more, something greater.
The plot of the film has Carole Lombard picking up hobo William Powell from a dump where he lives. She needs him as something that’s on her list for a charity scavenger hunt, namely a “forgotten man”. Through weird twists in Lombard’s brain she has Powell hired as the family butler. It seems that they can’t keep one because the family is too nuts. She also wants a project or protégé like her mother and other family members. What happens after that is the film and it involves Powell changing the family in ways they never expected.
What I think throws most people off is that the film feels like a big studio production, the rich are rich, the setting opulent, even to the extent that the city dump looks great. Life is largely a joy and outside of the odd forgotten man the Depression is nowhere to be found. On the other hand the film has a subversive edge to it. It’s a film that very clearly shows that every person is of value and that you never know who someone really is (Godfrey has a past that makes him surprisingly connected)
What I love about the film is the interplay of the characters. Lombard and Powell have a natural ease in their scenes, which adds much and comes from the fact that they had been married in real life and remained close friends until she died. The longing looks have some basis in reality.
This is one of those classics that doesn’t work remade. Yes the David Niven version is good, but it isn’t great. There is something about it being in color and being from a different time than Hollywood’s heyday (and the Depression) that makes it something less than the original. Don’t get me wrong it’s a game try, but whatever you say Niven and June Alyson are no match for Powell and Lombard.
That said if you've never seen the original-go see it it's an absolute joy of a film.