Not rated because it's 1936. This one is pretty tame, but we also have to deal with 1936 racial politics. There are a few Native American jokes that are regressive. It's done in a context of the era. Nothing outright derogatory, but it isn't exactly comfortable either. There's also implication that it is okay for men to hit women. But the movie is pretty chill. It would probably get a PG today.
DIRECTOR: Gregory La Cava
I might be the last film guy to watch My Man Godfrey. This is one of the big ones. I should have seen this before this moment. I guess I need to return to that old well. It's impossible to be able to watch everything, so some things need to be saved for a later date. I adore William Powell. I haven't rewatched them since I got the box set, but I don't think you could make me happier than a Thin Man marathon. Powell just has this charm about him. It makes absolute sense why Godfrey is a perfect fit for him. He's a character who gets by entirely on his sense of composure.
But My Man Godfrey, despite the fact that it is a glorious romp, has the weirdest message in the world. This is a movie set in the midst of the Great Depression. The Great Depression, for entertainment, was huge. While other businesses and industries were failing, people were flocking to films to take their mind off of their troubles. Often, these movies would appeal to the common man, especially to the have-nots. I'm thinking of Gold Diggers of '33 and Pennies from Heaven. The reversal of fortune in a moment is a fantasy that was played up in these movies. My Man Godfrey is another example of one of these movies. But rather than take a character who is actually destitute, My Man Godfrey almost seems like it has no idea what it means to be poor. Godfrey is referred to as "a forgotten man." He lives in a city dump. But rather than build up the nobility of the forgotten man, he is kind of just a destitute man in name. I'm really beating around the bush, so I'm going to get to the central idea and work backwards. Why do the rich people get a bailout from Godfrey? The movie is a movie where the poor are considered the noble class and the rich are absolute buffoons. I love this. I can see Depression-era audiences loving this as well. But the message of the story is all screwed up. Godfrey, by the end of the film, learns to love the horrible habits of the upper crust. Every member of the family, shy of dad, are horrible human beings. Heck, even his co-star, Carole Lombard's Irene, is oddly sick and terrible. She seems to be the sweetest of the group because she is the one who gets Godfrey his position. But she only does so because she is sexually attracted to Godfrey. She throws temper tantrums when Godfrey rejects her advances. She's actually one of the more annoying female leads in film. She's fine...if she wasn't the love interest of the film. Honestly, the movie sets up Gail Patrick's Cornelia to be the love interest far more. I will get to this in a second. There's this odd shift in the film where Godfrey is almost teaching the family a lesson about how to treat the poor. But they never really learn that lesson. Cornelia at least comes around. She goes from a terrible character to a morally somewhat okay character by the end. They thank Godfrey, but they seem to be the same people they were before. It's a really weird choice. The movie teases me with a comeuppens, but it all works eerily well for everyone.
From an audience perspective during the Depression, you could read the ending two different ways. 1) The poor are infinitely smarter than the rich. If they were given a clear opportunity, they could be rich better than the current rich. 2) Why aren't you rich? See how easy it is? That's a weird choice. I can see what the filmmakers were shooting for. That first message is probably the goal. My Man Godfrey talks about being good to the common man. I love that message so much. But that message is kind of buried under the farce that is the bulk of the film. I can't even seem to understand what an audience would think about that. These people don't really have hardship. Godfrey kind of chooses to live as a homeless man. Being homeless is a vacation to him. I can't be the guy who says this right now, right? I didn't live through the Great Depression. The filmmakers did! The Great Depression was happening to them in that moment. But their understanding of a global epidemic shows off that homelessness is kind of charming. It's about not having to shave. The garbage dump is the cleanest place in the world. I can get behind the narrative that rich are completely ignorant about the humanity of others. While My Man Godfrey is satirical in its interpretation of the upper crust, it rings true. I'm thinking of Tobey Maguire in the real version of Molly's Game right now. But the odd narrative that leads into that is silly. As much as I love Godfrey, it also shows the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" attitude behind wealth. I'm coming at this from a 21st Century perspective. It's completely unfair for me to say this. I'd also like to remind everyone that I really enjoyed the movie. It's just that this movie is so moralistic. It has the lower class as amiable and the upper class as evil or buffoonish. It's just such an odd moment.
I keep commenting on weak spots in the movie. The movie is really entertaining, but I can't help but have these thoughts. Why is Carol Lombard Irene? That's such an odd casting choice. Irene, out of the sisters, is the one who stands out more. She has kind of a decent soul at times, but she's a really problematic character. She's vapid and selfish. She's never told "no." She actually has the intellect and attitude of a child. She's not Godfrey's equal whatsoever. If anything, she just acts as comic relief. I know that this isn't the first movie to join the protagonist and the comic relief together. But Godfrey goes through much of the film actively disliking Irene. When she barges into his room, he finds it wildly inappropriate. When she kisses him, he's mortified. Again, 21st Century Me is seeing all of this as sexual harassment. She practically hires him because he's sexually attractive. Now, it's not that I necessarily hate Irene. Irene is necessary to the story. But there are two more suitable matches in the film before Irene. Cornelia, as I mentioned before, is an equal to Godfrey. She's an honest threat in the story. She's dynamic and actually ends the story far closer to Godfrey than when the story started. She is filled with regret for her actions and tenderness when Godfrey forgives her. I can see that being a really interesting story. She sees the value of the forgotten person and we could see the power of forgiveness if Godfrey allows himself to be open. There's no way that the two could marry by the end of the story, but the two could start a relationship. Another great choice is Jean Dixon's Molly. Molly, the maid, madly falls in love with Godfrey. I don't love her as a choice mainly because the film doesn't really give her the screentime that she deserves. But in terms of arcs, Molly actually makes a lot of sense. Molly is dismissive of Godrey's abilities from moment one. But Godfrey starts to fix the house. He's able to give her catharsis for all the garbage that she goes through up to that point. She thinks that they are equals and in the trenches together. So when it emerges that he is a rich man, that's a wonderful "just desserts." It's a prince who pretends to be a pauper. Also, Molly genuinely is a good person throughout. They have a far more honest relationship than Irene and Godfrey do, so why not indulge that a bit? It's weird that Molly even loves him if that is never going to be reciprocated. By saying that Irene "wins" Godfrey, it is only approving of her terrible behavior, especially in light of the responsibility that Molly shows throughout the film.
The movie is very good. Everything I'm writing is more of a commentary on the romantic slapstick of the 1930s. This movie wouldn't really work the way it does had these choices been addressed, especially looking at the reality of poverty. I know that Sullivan's Travels did it, but My Man Godfrey has a different tone. This is a far more playful movie. It's a romantic comedy that really likes to wrap its plots up in a nice and neat bow. Regardless, it's a good time.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.