Friday, July 3, 2020
Screwball Watch: My Man Godfrey (1936)
Format: TCM on DVR
Director: Gregory La Cava
This movie got a scad of Oscar nominations and was very big upon its release. It's a comedy about class, wealth, those who have money and those who don't in a contemporary picture released in the thick of the Great Depression.
William Powell plays a "forgotten man" (read: guy living in a shack in a junk yard) who is found by two fabulously wealthy sisters competing in a New Years scavenger hunt - and one of the items is a "forgotten man". Powell's Godfrey takes exception to being a scavenged item, but he sees the younger sister could use the boost and he can further drive the needle in if he helps show her up.
He's recruited to become the butler for a very 1930's wacky family of two sisters (one a flighty sweetheart and one a contemptuous jerk), a dingbat of a mother and a father who can't control any of them or their spending. Godfrey learns there's massive turn over as the family is so impossible, but he sticks it out - because, hey 1936 and a job's a job.
We learn Godfrey is not exactly what he appears, and, of course, he has to work to right things for the family.
Maybe not Sullivan's Travels level, but the movie is a look at the rich being wildly out of touch with those around them struggling, and that those not of the Manhattan elite are seen as less-than, just sort of people-shaped things to be avoided. And those fortunate enough to land employment as a domestic find they're at the mercy of this protected class and their various flavors of malarkey and the capriciousness of their employers.
The movie now feels very simple and straightforward - like one of those stories that's been iterated upon and certainly merged with Jeeves novels/ Alfred of Wayne Manor in the notion of the butler suffering the person they work with, commenting slyly. That's some good stuff, but Godfrey does have it's own wrinkles and complications. It's also about the fragility of the bubble the wealthy live in, that those living in their huge apartments high above the streets and having their parties could be part of the rabble if a couple things go wrong.
It's an interesting bit of cinema history as much as anything else, and as I'll often argue - it's a window into the people who loved this movie and their time. I'm not sure it translates perfectly in 2020, but might in another five years (keep an eye on the stock ticker).