A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler - but there's more to Godfrey than meets the eye.A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler - but there's more to Godfrey than meets the eye.A scatterbrained socialite hires a vagrant as a family butler - but there's more to Godfrey than meets the eye.
In fact My Man Godfrey got a whole host of nominations, for LaCava for Best Director, for Carole Lombard, for Mischa Auer for Best Supporting Actor and Alice Brady for Best Supporting Actress. In the very first year of the Supporting categories, My Man Godfrey had nominees in all the acting categories, but failed to win any awards. Curiously enough, it wasn't nominated for Best Picture.
The Bulloch sisters Carole Lombard and Gail Patrick a pair of ditzy society girls are on a scavenger hunt which takes them to the city dump where they are to find a forgotten man. The expression is taken from Franklin D. Roosevelt who called those who were out of work and without hope forgotten men. The phrase had a lot of currency back in the day.
In fact My Man Godfrey's origins are rooted in the Depression Years. When Powell turns down Patrick's invitation to be her trophy in the scavenger hunt, he accepts Lombard's. It turns out he's no ordinary forgotten man, he is the heir to a large estate held by a prominent Boston WASP family. But that's a fact he conceals from the Bulloch sisters when he's hired as their butler.
His time with the Bulloch family is a learning experience indeed for both of them. The Depression hasn't hit these two girls, but it almost does save for Powell's financial acumen.
As I said the film is firmly ground in those years of the Depression and the New Deal. It's hard to fathom, but when FDR took office on March 4, 1933, twenty five percent of the workforce was unemployed. Today if the number reaches above five percent the doomsayers are calling it a depression. I remember an uncle of mine telling me that when he graduated high school in 1937 a year after My Man Godfrey he could not get work for over 2 years until America went on a war footing before Pearl Harbor. After that he got drafted and didn't have to worry about a job for a few years. He might have been living just like the men in the city dump, but for the fact my grandparents had jobs and kept a roof over everyone's head.
Mischa Auer plays Carlo, a kind of permanent houseguest of Alice Brady as Mrs. Bulloch. In today's world long after the Code has been repealed, Auer might well have been more explicitly gay.
Eugene Palette is Mr. Bulloch who freely admits he lives in a house of scatterbrains. Though he got no nominations his playing of the Bulloch patriarch set a standard for him in playing a host of put upon fathers.
In 1957 My Man Godfrey was remade with David Niven and June Allyson co-starring. Neither of the leads lacked for the charm needed to put over the story, but instead of The Great Depression, David Niven is an illegal alien looking to get a visa. You don't quite feel for him as you do for the jobless and hopeless William Powell.
If My Man Godfrey is ever remade in the modern era, let's hope they keep the economic underpinnings of this classic screwball comedy, even if they don't take it back to the Depression Years.
- Feb 5, 2007