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'My Man Godfrey': High-Class Struggle
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
04:00PM / Thursday, October 29, 2020
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I wish that I were reviewing one of the several movies about this pox upon our house that are certain to be made when the horror is deep into our rearview mirror. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, like going to the movies, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.
Analyzing "My Man Godfrey" (1936), about a socialite who adopts a seemingly down-on-his-luck denizen of the city dump after rounding him up courtesy of a charity soiree's scavenger hunt, I wondered what came first: my empathy, or the film's prodding to be so?
Could another kid my age, living across the street, let us say, whose parents also let him stay up late and watch old movies, see director Gregory La Cava's tutorial on economic inequity dressed in screwball comedy's clothing and nonetheless grow up to support a Trump? How does that happen?
I'm guessing that little boy, who like me will inevitably be tired and thus inattentively bored in Mrs. Kaplan's 4th-grade class the next day, each night received the following instruction from his parents before they retired to bed: "We're going to sleep, Smitty. Stay up and watch that drivel if you must, but just don't fall for that sympathy for the disadvantaged stuff. It's a bunch of hooey, and anyone who buys into it is a loser and a chump. Help people and they'll start making money and move into our neighborhood and think they're as good as we are. Good night. We love you."
Coddled in wealth, Carole Lombard's Irene Bullock, who convinces William Powell's Godfrey Smith to forsake the ash pile and become her zany family's butler, is too isolated from the real world to harbor any prejudices toward the Great Unwashed, if she knew they existed. She's also a little silly, doubtlessly due in no small part to freedom from almost all life-sustaining concerns.
That is, except for the constant bullying at the hands of her beautiful sister, Cornelia (Gail Patrick), who has allowed the boredom of the idle rich to render her mean spirited.
Expectedly, Irene becomes increasingly enamored of her somewhat mysterious find. He is, after all, quite polished considering from whence he sprang. Rationalizing that her ditsy mom has taken in a ne'er-do-well artist as her protégé, she knights Godfrey her pet project. In turn, he proves a great butler who soon doubles as surreptitious social worker to the nuttily dysfunctional Bullocks, all the while doing his best to squelch the sweet princess' advances. The jaded Cornelia hardly likes the arrangement.
Morrie Ryskind's smartly hilarious, Oscar-nominated script adapted from Erich Hatch's novel, subtly informs the Bullock parlor with a stream of witty repartee that silently screams the causes of class struggle beneath its wackiness. Aside from Godfrey, only Mr. Bullock, a captain of industry who has been exp