powered by AFI
My Man Godfrey (1936) is about a bum, a "forgotten man" who becomes a butler for a wildly rich and stir-crazy household. The film still serves as a benchmark for screwball comedies as well as a social commentary on the impact of The Great Depression on America. The real-life divorced couple of Carole Lombard and William Powell made for great chemistry, while the supporting cast was filled with wonderful character actors who became fixtures in other '30s and '40s comedies: Eugene Pallette, the bullfrog-voiced, long-suffering paterfamilias, Alice Brady as his scatterbrained wife, Gail Patrick as Lombard's scheming sister and the hilariously bug-eyed Mischa Auer, who found his stride as the pouty "mascot" of the household (His imitation of a gorilla is one of the film's comic highpoints).
The director of My Man Godfrey - Gregory La Cava - may not be as well known today as some of his contemporaries like Howard Hawks, George Cukor or Preston Sturges, but, like them, he found his own course to freedom within the studio system. A former animator who began directing two-reel comedies in the company of Leo McCarey and Frank Capra, La Cava freelanced for much of his career, holding studio bosses in contempt and preferring to find a more organic style of working, one that mirrored that of the screenwriter of My Man Godfrey, Morrie Ryskind.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of the play Of Thee I Sing (1932), with George S. Kaufman, and a screenwriter in his own right (A Night at the Opera, 1935), Ryskind was hired to write the script for My Man Godfrey. His usual method for preparing a screenplay was rather unorthodox - he usually work-shopped his scripts with an informal team of colleagues. In this case, he rewrote and improvised dialog, often on the set, with the film's two leads and the director. La Cava also preferred this method of working, and was known for reshaping scenes and rewriting on the set, often shooting without a finished script. This spontaneous approach influenced the role of Irene, which was actually based on Carole Lombard.
La Cava had other eccentricities. When the director and star William Powell found themselves in a disagreement about the portrayal of Godfrey, the two spent an evening with a bottle of Scotch, reaching consensus hours later on the character's depiction. Arriving on the set the next morning with a headache, but intending to get a day's work done, La Cava discovered that Powell was nowhere to be found. A telegram was delivered to the set from the absent actor. It read, "WE MAY HAVE FOUND GODFREY LAST NIGHT BUT WE LOST POWELL. SEE YOU TOMORROW."
My Man Godfrey became a runaway hit, earning huge profits and six Oscar nominations, although it surprisingly didn't win in any category. Nevertheless, it confirmed William Powell's status as a leading man (He followed this with Libeled Lady  starring Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow) and La Cava subsequently made the popular backstage comedy Stage Door (1937). In the part of the dizzy heiress, Carole Lombard (she was originally suggested for the role by her ex-husband Powell) finally revealed her full potential as a comedienne and actress. She also won a Best Actress nomination for her performance. In addition, My Man Godfrey garnered nominations for Best Actor (Powell), Best Supporting Actor (Mischa Auer), Best Supporting Actress (Alice Brady), Best Director and Best Screenplay. In 1957, Universal-International remade My Man Godfrey with June Allyson and David Niven in the lead roles but it was a pale imitation of the original film.
Producer: Gregory La Cava, Charles R. Rogers
Director: Gregory La Cava
Screenplay: Gregory La Cava, Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Costume Design: Travis Banton
Film Editing: Ted Kent, Russell Schoengarth
Original Music: Charles Previn
Principal Cast: William Powell (Godfrey), Carole Lombard (Irene), Alice Brady (Angelica), Gail Patrick (Cornelia), Jean Dixon (Molly), Eugene Pallette (Alexander), Mischa Auer (Carlo), Alan Mowbray (Tommy Gray).
by Genevieve McGillicuddy