Possibly the screwiest of all screwball comedies, My Man Godfrey is the ultimate Depression-era satire of the idle rich and tribute to the noble poor.
This popular screwball theme was never more devastatingly realized than in My Man Godfrey’s opening sequence, which begins with a pair of spoiled society-brat sisters (Gail Patrick and Carole Lombard) show up at a city dump looking for a "forgotten man" — as part of a cocktail-party scavenger hunt!
What they find is a down-and-out derelict named Godfrey (William Powell), whose rumpled dignity, ironic cynicism, and self-aware mien seem hardly typical of his station in life. Finding one of the sisters less condescendingly offensive than the other, Godfrey accompanies her back to the party, and winds up guardedly accepting a role in their sibling rivalry by becoming her "protégé" and the family butler. Godfrey, naturally, has a secret, as does the family he works for: They’re completely daft.
My Man Godfrey is social satire at its broadest; unlike Sullivan’s Travels there is no nuance in the picture of the rich as less worthy than the poor. And, between the heroine’s relentless flightiness and the hero’s implacable self-possession, the romantic angle is less effective than in Bringing Up Baby or It Happened One Night. But for hilariously outrageous behavior and merciless satirical zaniness, My Man Godfrey is an unsurpassed comic treasure.
This theme of romantically linking an upper-class society girl and a man beneath her station would become a popular device in screwball comedies, appealing to Depression audiences both as escapist entertainment and as satire of the idle rich and celebration of the hardworking poor.
Sullivan wants to address the problem of human suffering, but his producers argue, rightly so, that he doesn’t know enough about suffering to make a movie about it. But their attempts to dissuade him backfire when he decides to go on the road with ten cents in his pocket in an effort to experience poverty first-hand.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.