My Man Godfrey Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
It’s The Great Depression, and a quarter of Americans are without jobs and many left without homes. Those who hadn’t suffered great financial loss continued about their lives, spending time in luxurious hotels , donning lavish outfits and wasting away their nights with expensive booze and novelty party games.
One of the latter is Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard, just six years before her untimely death in a plane crash), a socialite participating in a scavenger hunt with her friends. To win, her sister, Cornelia (Gail Patrick, who also died less than a decade before the film’s release; hers came just three years later), finds she needs an item that nobody wants; say, a “forgotten man.” That man is Godfrey (William Powell, two years after his first THIN MAN movie), who lives in a dump in New York. with other ill-fated men. Irene takes pity on Godfrey, who agrees to help her beat Cornelia. Soon enough, Godfrey is hired to serve as butler. And sure enough, complications quickly arise. As Godfrey grows familiar in his position and with Irene, Cornelia plots to get rid of the butler. Meanwhile, Godfrey’s own history proves to be much different than what those he’s now serving expected.
From its opening credits, MY MAN GODFREY immediately hits on the mark that it will serve as a critique of social and economic classes. The image begins along an East River skyline, the glitzy capitalized names lighting up the sky and reflecting in the water. As the landscape begins to change, so do the music and size of the font–the forgotten people you are about to meet are grimy and small, so far from being anything near the larger-than-life figures of the city.
Such a plot allows for a number of things, and the screenplay by Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind, based on Hatch’s novel “1101 Park Avenue” hits on many. It is a clear jab at the wealthy, who here often turn an oblivious, blind eye to what is in front of them. It shows, too, what those who have been shut out of society can offer. (Never mind that Godfrey turns out to have had a rich past and hasn’t always been a bum, the point stands firm.) It is a film that resonates today, in a country so often skeptical of the upper class, more than eight decades since its release.
Directed by Gregory La Cava (1934’s THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI; his next film would be 1937’s STAGE DOOR), MY MAN GODFREY, too, is simply hysterical. It is one of the finest of all screwball comedies, with laughs spewing in every scene. (The American Film Institute ranked it as the 44th funniest film of all time.) In the leads, Powell and Lombard bounce off each other wildly and honestly, developing each perfectly timed scene together with such charming and commendable chemistry; their shared moments are demonstrations of how the subgenre works best. (Not bad for a pair that had divorced three years prior.)
MY MAN GODFREY was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Writing (Screenplay). It was the first film to be nominated in all four acting categories.
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “The film was restored by Universal Pictures, from 4K resolution scans of the 35 mm nitrate original camera negative and a composite safety fine-grain made on an ARRISCAN wet-gate film scanner, with restoration services provided by NBCUniversal StudioPost.”
This high-definition presentation of MY MAN GODFREY is a wonderful one, with crisp details, strong contrast and an overall healthy image. Fans will be pleased with this transfer.
Audio: English Mono. “The film was restored by Universal Pictures, from 4K resolution scans of the 35 mm nitrate original camera negative and a composite safety fine-grain made on an ARRISCAN wet-gate film scanner, with restoration services provided by NBCUniversal StudioPost.”
Dialogue is clean and the score comes through without issues.
The La Cava Touch (17:46): This 2018 featurette features author Gary Giddins discussing MY MAN GODFREY
Lux Radio Theatre (1:00:40): A 1938 radio adaptation of the film, with William Powell, Carole Lombard, Gail Patrick, and Mischa Auer reprising their roles.
Effortless Art (18:31): Critic and programmer Nick Pinkerton sits down to discuss director Gregory La Cava.
Newsreels (4:28) concerning the Great Depression.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release: an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.