“Godfrey loves me, he put me in the shower!”
My Man Godfrey is the quintessential 1930s screwball comedy. I cannot think of one thing that is wrong with this film it is a perfect comedy. Nothing is overdone or too much. The dialogue is fantastically witty, quick, and clever.
A young woman named Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) walks into the city dump. She is dressed lavishly in diamonds and a beautiful gown. Cornelia comes from a wealthy family and she and her sister Irene (Carole Lombard) are part of a rich man’s version of a scavenger hunt. The person who brings back a Forgotten Man gets the top prize. Cornelia meets Godfrey (William Powell) and offers him five dollars. Godfrey says something to her that scares her and puts her in his place. Irene comes around and she is sweet unlike her sister. She pretty much drags Godfrey along and she wins the hunt. To thank him Irene offers him a job as their butler in the Fifth Ave apartment. As soon as her mother (played by Alice Brady) comes on screen we know Godfrey is for a crazy time.
The next morning Godfrey meets the Bullock’s maid. She has been with the family for several years and warns Godfrey what he is getting into. Even before he walks up the stairs to bring Mrs. Bullock her drink he sees that Mr. Bullock is friends with the process server who frequents the house after the girls have had too much fun on nights out (this time Cornelia broke some windows). The maid walks in at the same time to inform that a man is in the kitchen looking for his horse Irene stole the previous night and some money she owes him. When Mr. Bullock asks where the horse is the maid points to the living room! Godfrey’s second dose of the family is when he brings Mrs. Bullock her tomato juice. Mrs. Bullock is hysterically hung over from the party. The maid warned Godfrey that Mrs. Bullock says that she sees fairies after a rough night. Sure enough the woman is seeing fairies which are from light reflecting from a glass lamp onto the ceiling. The next room he goes to is Cornelia’s but she screams at him to get out and throws things at him. The last room is Irene’s. Irene is so happy to see Godfrey she kisses him. He freaks out a little and returns downstairs. It seems as though he going to leave but, the maid had put his suitcase, hat and coat by the door, but he is going to stick the family out. He asks the maid what kind of family he is up against and she flatly tells him that she cannot answer some questions.
As the days and weeks roll on Godfrey sees just how nuts the Bullock family really is. The nuttiness mostly comes from Irene and her mother. Mrs. Bullock spends her time with her protégée Carlo who is a musician. Irene tells Godfrey he is her protégée and wants to help him in whatever he needs. She worships Godfrey with the biggest crush anyone can have for another person. Godfrey ignores Irene but the more he does she gets sulkier and upset and her crush grows even more. So upset about Godfrey not liking her that at a party she announces she is getting engaged to man she does not really like. This is just one of many engagements she has gone through. Also at the party Godfrey runs into an old friend named Tommy Gray. Through Tommy we find out that Godfrey comes from a rich Boston family and attended Harvard. Godfrey tells his old friend that a girl had really broken his heart and he went to end his life by the dump but he saw the men at the barge and became friends with them.
A few months later Godfrey is still the Bullock’s butler. Irene and Cornelia went to Europe for a few months so Irene could get over her recent broken engagement. She is upset with her butler because he was not as happy as she expected him to be upon her return. Irene confesses to Godfrey that she loves him and he says that he likes her as well but it could never be.
In the end Godfrey winds up helping the family out in a big way. Irene states that everyone in the world knows that he is love with her except for him and has someone marry them.
After seeing this film I can finally see why Carole Lombard was known as the Queen of Screwballs. She was hysterical from beginning to end. I read that the character of Irene was supposed to be in her mid-teens and that is how Lombard played her (even though she was around twenty-eight at the time). Her faces alone made me laugh they were so funny. William Powell was just marvelous. He was great at the straight man to all the insanity around him. Powell really is what makes this film he was the calm in the middle of a crazy storm. Alice Brady as Mrs. Bullock was a panic. Mrs. Bullock is the type of character that would drive me nuts in any other film but Brady played her perfectly and all her lines were so subtle and witty. Gail Patrick was beautiful. Cornelia was a spoiled rich girl, the type of character Patrick usually played. The character gets under your skin very very slightly but in the end you can forgive her. I could not get over the fact that Gail Patrick was twenty-five when she made this film—I am the same age I wish I could look like that!
The best scene in the whole film is when Irene pretends to have one of her fainting spells. Godfrey takes her up to her room and puts her on her bed. As he is looking for some smelling salts on her vanity he sees her sit up then lay quickly back down. Now he is onto her game so he plays back. He picks her up, put her in the shower and turns the water on! Irene jumps up and her parents hear. When the mother comes in Irene proclaims “Godfrey loves me he put me in the shower!” The she jumps all over her room singing out that Godfrey loves her. I was dying laughing through the whole scene. This is when I finally saw Carole Lombard as the Queen of Screwballs.
My Man Godfrey is one of the best comedies ever made. It is everything that makes 1930s Screwball Comedies the best: the writing is clever, the actors are top notch, the director (in this case Gregory La Cava) keeps excellent pace with the writing and the actors, and it is wrapped up in social commentary without throwing them in the viewer’s face. My Man Godfrey and Screwball films like it, leaves me wishing that comedy films and actors could be this way again where everything about it is just perfect and completely enjoyable.