Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Man Godfrey (1936)

Eccentric rich people can be very funny. Especially if one of them is played by Carole Lombard, who is wonderful at appearing effortlessly nutty in a variety of situations. In this situation, Lombard plays Irene Bullock, one of two Bullock sisters in a family in which each member is insanely eccentric in their own special way. Irene is an expert at throwing fits, sobbing, fainting, and overdramatizing. She is very good at getting her way, even if it takes drawing out her fits over months. Irene's sister Cornelia is more sinisterly eccentric. She is good at making biting comments and scheming up ways to destroy the lives of others. Mrs. Bullock is just dotty. She sees pixies when she's hung over, and she keeps a protege named Carlo, who spends his days eating the family's food and pretending to practice his music. He also can do an intensely accurate gorilla impression to try to cheer up Irene when she's having a fit. Mr. Bullock, the apparent long-suffereing man in a family of loopy women, is only slightly less eccentric than the rest of his family. His eccentricity seems to be that he is incapable of keeping the rest of his family in check. Enter into this crazy family the dignified butler Godfrey (William Powell), and you have My Man Godfrey.
Of course even Godfrey has his eccentricities, though. Before becoming the butler for the Bullocks, he was a living in a New York City dump. How did he end up working for the Bullocks? He was picked up in a scavenger hunt. Mrs. Bullock earned points by finding a goat... Irene Bullock managed to get the catch of the evening, a "forgotten man." After Godfrey helps Irene win the scavenger hunt, she impulsively hires him as the family's new butler, and he enters their crazy home...

...Irene falls almost immediately in love: "Oh, you're more than a butler. You're the first protege I've ever had."

...Mr. Bullock loses all semblance of control over the family finances: "Why should the government get more money than your own flesh and blood?"

...Cornelia seethes over the fact that Godfrey did not help her in the scavenger hunt and plots revenge: "Godfrey knows I'm not being personal, but after all, none of us would like to wake up some morning stabbed to death."

...and Mrs. Bullock demonstrates her crazy thinking about the world: "[Godfrey's] the first thing [Irene's] shown any affection for since her Pomeranian died last summer."

Godfrey calmly goes with the flow, intervening only when Irene is a little too amorous:
G: "Hasn't anyone every told you about certain proprieties?"
I: "Oh you use such lovely big words. I like big words. What does it mean?"
G: "Well, I'll try to simplify it. Hasn't your mother ever explained to you that some things are proper and some things are not?"
I: "No she hasn't. She rambles on quite a bit, but then she never says anything.
I would watch this again. Three stars. One for Carole Lombard, who is always entertaining, one for making me laugh even when there were holes in the plot, and one for William Powell's Godfrey, who is keeping an eccentric secret of his own.