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145. MY MAN GODFREY, 1936

An outrageous, quintessential screwball comedy about moral obligations

Carole Lombard and William Powell star as aristocrat and butler in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Only Hollywood in its glory days could make a film about moral obligations so hilariously sumptuous as “My Man Godfrey”. Armed with continually uproarious dialogue and outlandish situations, and enacted by one of the best ensemble casts in movie history, this stylish screwball comedy makes us laugh at the rich, cheer for the poor, and realize that we are all comrades in this crazy thing called life. Expertly crafted and very funny, the film earned six Academy Award nominations and is considered one of filmdom’s top comedies. The American Film Institute (AFI) named it the 44th Funniest American Movie of All-Time and the BBC lists it as the 52nd Greatest Comedy of All-Time, among other standings. Though made nearly ninety years ago, its themes and laughs never get old.


Gail Patrick sits on an ash pile at the city dump with Robert Light, William Powell, and Carole Lombard in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

“My Man Godfrey’s” swanky opening credits appear as flashing neon lights scattered atop a modern waterfront metropolis, before the camera slowly pans and ends across the river on shadowy figures living amid the city dump. This first shot gloriously sets up a dichotomy between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor, which sits at the heart of this film. It’s at the dump we first meet down and out “Godfrey” warming himself by a fire. He is soon joined by three upper crust strangers who pull up in an expensive car, two of whom turn out to be rivaling sisters “Cornelia” and “Irene Bullock”. “Cornelia” exchanges words with “Godfrey” and ends up in an ash pile, and ditzy “Irene” winds up hiring “Godfrey” as the family’s butler.


Willaim Powell serves hors d'oeuvres to Gail Patrick, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, and Eugene Pallette in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

“Godfrey” turns out to be the most competent and dignified in the entire “Bullock” household, which contains perhaps the zaniest bunch to ever grace a movie screen. In addition to the daffy “Irene” (who is in love with “Godfrey”) and malicious “Cornelia” (who wants revenge against him for being pushed into an ash pile), this batch of screwballs includes their father “Alexander Bullock” (who tells “Godfrey”: "I sometimes wonder whether my whole family's gone mad or whether it's me”), wife and mother “Angelica” (who’s even more fruity than “Irene”), “Carlos” (“Angelica’s” overly theatrical protégée), and “Molly” (the family’s longtime, cynical maid).


Jean Dixon and William Powell in a 1930s kitchen in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Emerging from the mayhem is a comical portrait of the responsibility we all have to one another. “Godfrey” says it best when adding a little Worcester sauce to “Angelica’s” morning tomato juice to ward off pixies, telling “Molly”: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. The film makes a point that kindness, generosity, and compassion go a long, long way.


Alice Brady, Carole Lombard, William Powell at the Waldorf Ritz hotel in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

Though "My Man Godfrey” remains highly relevant and entertainingly delightful at face value, awareness of the context in which it was created will surely deepen the film’s meaning and one’s appreciation of it. It was made during the Great Depression, which began with the 1929 Wall Street stock market crash, spread through the world, and lasted roughly until the onset of World War II.


The city dump or Hooverville where Godfrey lives in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

The US President at the time, Herbert Hoover, notoriously said, "Prosperity is just around the corner” as America slid into the Great Depression and millions of people and families found themselves jobless and even homeless. Many lived in shanty towns that became nicknamed “Hoovervilles” (like the one we see in the opening scene). The public at large considered Hoover ineffectual, and in 1932 he lost reelection by a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In a 1932 radio speech, Roosevelt used the phrase the "forgotten man” to refer to those at the bottom of the economic scale. Both presidential quotes are referred to in the film.


William Powell as forgotten man Godfrey smokes a pipe at the city dump or Hooverville in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

As a forgotten man, “Godfrey” represented a large portion of the 1936 audiences that flocked to see the film in the midst of the Depression, so lines such as “Godfrey” telling a fellow forgotten man “I wouldn't worry, prosperity is just around the corner” and the man responding, "Yeah. It's been there a long time. I wish I knew which corner” cut deep. And there’s no doubt audiences felt great satisfaction when the terribly rich and ultra spoiled “Cornelia” lands in an ash pile at the city dump, and perhaps felt a sense of hope at the film’s conclusion, which I’ll let you discover when you watch it.


Carole Lombard wants "Godfrey's" attention at her tea party in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

“My Man Godfrey” swimmingly plays with Depression Era politics and the giant divide between the working class and the rich. It gleefully makes fun of the frivolousness of the affluent, showing them as wacky, superficial, and out of touch with reality, as when we see “Angelica” show up at the Waldorf with a goat or "Irene" impulsively announcing herself engaged to "Charlie Van Rumple”.


Eugene Pallette has a drink with and chats with rich man Selmer Jackson at the bar of the Waldorf Ritz in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

The rich are perhaps best summed up in a conversation at the Waldorf bar between “Alexander” and another blue blood who tells him, "The place slightly resembles an insane asylum”, to which “Alexander” replies, "Well, all you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people”. These rich folks are clearly the right kind of people. By contrast, the poor are shown as wise, principled and proud, epitomized by “Godfrey” who takes pride and joy in his sole quest to be a good butler.


William Powell, Eugene Pallette and Jean Dixon in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

A scavenger hunt is used to drive home how clueless the rich are to the suffering around them and is the catalyst for the entire plot. It’s the reason “Cornelia” and “Irene” go to the dump and meet “Godfrey” in the first place. “Irene” explains to “Godfrey”:

“Irene”: “Well, a scavenger hunt is exactly like a treasure hunt, except in a treasure hunt you try to find something you want, and in a scavenger hunt you try to find something that nobody wants.”

“Godfrey”: “Mmm. Like a forgotten man?”

“Irene”: “That’s right. And the one that wins gets a prize, only there really isn’t a prize. It’s just the honor of winning because all the money goes to charity. That is, if there’s any money left over. But then there never is”.


Carole Lombard and William Powell talk in the lobby of the Waldorf Ritz hotel in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

But “Irene” has a kind heart, and she begins the film’s entire thread of unselfishness when she quickly adds, "You know, I've decided I don't want to play any more games with human beings as objects, it's kinda sordid when you think about it, I mean when you think it over”.


William Powell and Carole Lombard talk at the city dump Hooverville in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

As written, the dialogue sounds serious and even cruel, yet it is delivered so breezily and amusingly by Carole Lombard as “Irene” and William Powell as “Godfrey” that it’s anything but. That’s what actors can bring to a part, and that’s the magic of “My Man Godfrey”. Its serious themes are draped in charm, amusement, and lots of belly laughs, offering lighthearted entertainment and a humorous critique of the times. After all, “My Man Godfrey” is a screwball comedy, and a stellar one at that.


William Powell, Carole Lombard, and Alice Brady in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

With few exceptions, screwball comedies were a Depression Era phenomenon and largely focused on how a little honesty, luck, and hard work can help anyone make good regardless of class. Generally considered to have materialized in 1934, another factor that helped birth screwball comedies was the strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code that same year (which I explain in my “Red Dust” post), which forbid any overt sex in Hollywood movies.


Carole Lombard looks lovingly at butler William Powell in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

In lieu of sex, romances in these comedies play out via verbal witticisms, antagonism, and physical antics. Film critic Andrew Sarris defined screwball comedy as "a sex comedy without the sex”, and while there’s no obvious sex in “My Man Godfrey”, it’s ever-present, with “Cornelia” having a boy toy and trying to seduce “Godfrey”, “Carlos” as “Angelica’s” protégée (aka gigolo), and “Irene” wanting “Godfrey” as her own protégée.


Carole Lombard takes a shower with William Powell watching in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

Screwball comedies contain rapid-fire dialogue, unpredictable mischief, and (with some variations) feature a crazy gal at the center of it all who does madcap things to win a man who doesn’t yet know he’s in love with her. These films provided a distraction of laughs and hope during a very trying time in history and their razor-sharp humor and victorious underdog motifs still resonate. “My Man Godfrey” was the film that crystalized the screwball comedy, made the genre popular, and is considered one of the best.


Carole Lombard cries on the steps in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

The film was based on the Liberty magazine short story serial "1101 Fifth Avenue” by Eric S. Hatch, which he turned into a 1935 novel “My Man Godfrey”. Universal Pictures bought the film rights and Hatch wrote a screenplay version with the help of Morrie Ryskind. Freelance director Gregory La Cava was hired to direct, and also had a major hand in the final screenplay. The film was right up La Cava’s alley, for his comedies were often class-based, pitting the rich against the working class. He was one of the top (and highest paid) directors of the 1930s and proved his flair for comedy previously directing films like "Laugh and Get Rich", "The Half-Naked Truth", "What Every Woman Knows", and "She Married Her Boss”


Carole Lombard and William Powell do dishes in the kitchen sink in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

There’s a freshness and impression of spontaneity in La Cava’s comedies, which grew out of how he worked. He’d cast talented actors, rehearse them, rewrite, improvise, and come up with new lines and business on the set, famously using the script only as an outline. Once the comedy and timing flowed naturally, he knew how to best capture it with a camera. It’s one reason the opening scene between “Godfrey” and “Irene” at the city dump is so enjoyably enthralling despite the dark topic. In it, La Cava showcases the interplay between the two actors in a static shot, letting their lighthearted and electric chemistry radiate. He does the same thing again later in the fabulous scene when the two are washing dishes. It’s the mark of a director who knew how to generate comedy, leave it alone, and let it shine.


Mischa Auer climbs the doors imitating a gorilla while William Powell, Eugene Pallette, Carole Lombard, and Alice Brady watch in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

portrait photot of Hollywood movie director screwballs comedy films Gregory La Cava
Gregory La Cava

La Cava also uses closeups and editing for fantastic comedic effect, such as in the hilarious scene when “Carlo” impersonates a gorilla. La Cava captures all five actors in the scene mostly with mid and long shots, and dots them with meticulously placed, very funny closeup reactions of a crying “Irene” and an appalled “Alexander”. The performances, shots, and edits cohesively create loads of laughs. La Cava also generates humor from sound, often informing us of what’s going on just out of sight, like hearing a neighing horse when “Alexander” opens a door, or the sound of crashing dishes after a slightly inebriated “Godfrey” exits the dining room. It’s comedy gold. “My Man Godfrey” earned La Cava a Best Director Academy Award nomination, and is recognized as one of the best comedies of the 1930s. He was at the zenith of his career and created a second masterpiece the following year, “Stage Door”, which earned him a second Best Director Oscar nomination. That film is already on this blog and is where you can read more about the life and career of Gregory La Cava. Just click on the film’s title to open that post.


Gail Patrick, Alice Brady, Carole Lombar, and William Powell face off in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

The world in “My Man Godfrey” is outrageous, yet its actors all convince us it's real. The cast contains a perfectly harmonious ensemble from the leads to the most bit players. Everyone in this film is more than adept at comedy and they all rattle off wisecracks and play off one another like a tight-knit symphony, adding their own unique color and personality, masterfully using pauses to let others have the laugh, and always keeping the rhythm and tone of the film flowing at a breakneck speed.


William Powell stars as a forgotten man turned butler in a Best Actor Academy Award nominated performance in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

portait photo of Hollywood movie star film actor debonair WIlliam Powell
William Powell

Leading this sensational cluster of talents is the sublime William Powell who stars as the homeless “Godfrey”, straight man to all the crazies around him. “Godfrey” is principled, honest, respectful, plays by the rules, remains dignified, and never oversteps the social order. He’s also a man devastated by a bad love affair whose heart is now closed. Powell’s richly understated performance brings so many nuances, he makes it look as if we can see "Godfrey" think. Take the tiny moment when he pauses at the dump with “Irene” just after she says she through playing games with people. In that instant we ever so slightly see “Godfrey” begin to take an interest in her. Powell’s masterful subtleties make “Godfrey” completely human, whether he’s being humiliated by “Cornelia”, wooed by “Irene”, or trying to navigate his job with the help of “Molly”. Powell brings an abundance of personality and charm without artifice, and his work in “My Man Godfrey” earned him a Best Actor Academy Award nomination.


William Powell is a forgotten man, with Carole Lombard and Alice Brady at the Waldorf Ritz in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

Portrait photo of Hollywood movie star film actor William Powell in a hat
William Powell

When La Cava was approached to direct “My Man Godfrey”, he told Universal he wouldn’t do it unless William Powell played “Godfrey”. Powell was a major movie star at the time, signed to MGM (a studio that rarely lent their top stars to other studios), but MGM got wind that the film’s script was top notch and surprisingly loaned him to Universal. Powell’s screen image was that of a charming, sophisticated gentleman, so seeing him unshaven and homeless was a surprise for 1936 audiences (and made an unsaid comment that if the civilized and debonair Powell could end up at the city dump, anyone could). The fact that “Godfrey” is proud of being a butler also showed audiences one could find pride and fulfillment in unappreciated jobs. “My Man Godfrey” was one of three major films in which Powell starred in 1936, the other two being the Best Picture Oscar winner "The Great Ziegfeld" and another classic screwball comedy, "Libeled Lady". He’d earned a previous Best Actor Oscar nomination for 1934’s “The Thin Man” (the film that made him a top movie star), and he’d earn a third and final Oscar nomination for 1947’s “Life with Father”. Check out more about the life and career of William Powell in my post on “The Thin Man”.


Carole Lombard stars as the nutty crazy dizzy dame "Irene Bullock" in her Best Actress Academy Award nominated performance in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Portrait photo of Hollywood movie star glamorous film actress comedienne Carole Lombard
Carole Lombard

Starring in a signature role is Carole Lombard as the fast-talking, spirited, dizzy “Irene Bullock”. Lombard holds nothing back as words pour out of her almost as if a loudspeaker was picking up her stream of consciousness – be it soft and compassionate (as when she apologizes to “Godfrey” at the Waldorf), comedically angry (as when insisting “Godfrey” be their butler), or hurt and fragile (when sharing a cry with “Molly”). Lombard’s body is also completely liberated, using her physicality as an outgrowth of emotion, such as how she poses around the room trying to punish “Godfrey" before her tea party, pretending she's fainted, or jumping for joy after a shower. Because Lombard’s such an extraordinary actress and brilliant comedienne, “Irene” comes off as kind, vulnerable, and innocent rather than mean or uppity, and it’s largely because we feel for her that the film works. “Irene” is Lombard’s most flamboyantly zany role, and even with all her big shenanigans, she plays it without a single false note. For her portrayal, Lombard earned a Best Actress Academy Award nomination, went from movie star to superstar, and became queen of the screwball comedy.


Drunk William Powell with Carole Lombard and Jean Dixon in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Portrait photo of Hollywood movie star glamorous film actress comedienne Carole Lombard
Carole Lombard

It took about ten years and nearly fifty film appearances before Lombard found stardom as the female lead in “Twentieth Century”, in which she played her first nutty comedic character (that film and “It Happened One Night”, both in 1934, are considered the first screwball comedies). Glamorous, unpredictable, and funny, it established her as a top comedienne, and she continued starring in screwball comedies such as "Hands Across the Table" and "The Princess Comes Across". In 1931, Lombard married Powell, who was 18 years her senior, and they divorced as friends 26 months later. Powell only agreed to star in "My Man Godfrey” if his ex-wife starred as "Irene", for he thought Lombard would be perfect. He was right and it took her career to a whole new level. Sadly, she’d make less than a dozen more films before her untimely death in 1942 at the age of 33. You can read more about the life, death, and career of Carole Lombard in my post on her final film, “To Be or Not to Be”. With her uninhibited comedic genius, Lombard paved the way for many comedians, and AFI voted her the 23rd Greatest Female American Legend of All-Time.


Carole Lombard in bed in her fur in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

One of the people Lombard heavily influenced was Lucille Ball, who cited Lombard as her favorite actress and, in the book “Becoming Carole Lombard”, credit’s Lombard’s “mentorship and comedic style as inspiration for her character ‘Lucy Ricardo’ on ‘I Love Lucy’”. You can certainly see Lombard’s influence on Ball (particularly from this film) when you watch that classic TV show. How cool is that?!


Alice Brady, Mischa Auer, and a goat at the scavenger hunt in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Another knockout performance is given by Alice Brady as “Angelica Bullock”, the looney mother of “Irene” and “Cornelia”. From the moment she’s introduced to us busting with energy while walking through the Waldorf hotel with “Carlos” and a goat, her hysterically well intentioned dippiness is infectious. Like the other actors in this film, Brady is a fabulous listener (a sign of a great actor), and her comedic timing is as exacting as can be.


William Powell brings a drink to Alice Brady in bed the morning after in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Brady is a joy to behold, whether flicking away imaginary pixies the morning after, repeatedly yelling at "Alexander" that he’s upsetting “Carlo", or spewing classic comedic lines such as "Well I'm positive I didn't ride a horse into the library because I didn't have my riding costume on” or "I never say anything behind your back that I won't say in public". Her voice and attitude are playfully amusing, and her hands have a life of their own as she continually points, waves, and flutters them while speaking. Brady’s fantastic performance earned her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination.


Alice Brady with her dog in her Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominated role in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

portrait photo of Hollywood movie star character film and Broadway actress Alice Brady in pearl necklace
Alice Brady

New York City-born Alice Brady was the daughter of an actress and theater producer, and though she studied opera, much to her father’s chagrin, she wanted to be an actress. Starting on stage, she made it to Broadway at the age of 18 in 1911's "The Balkan Princess”, and worked on Broadway nearly her entire career, appearing in forty more shows by 1933, from comedy to drama to light opera (including the original productions of "Little Women” and "Mourning Becomes Electra"). Her film career began with a starring role in the 1914 silent film "As Ye Sow", and she appeared in 53 silents through 1923. Brady made 26 sound films before her early death, starting with 1933's "When Ladies Meet" and including other classics like "The Gay Divorcee", "Gold Diggers of 1935", "Go West Young Man", and her final, 1939's "Young Mr. Lincoln". The year after "My Man Godfrey", Brady won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "In Old Chicago". She was married once, to actor James Crane. Alice Brady died of cancer in 1939 at the age of 46.


Gail Patrick is rich spoiled villainess Cornelia Bullock in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

glamor portriat photo of Hollywood movie star film actress bad girl Gail Patrick holding a cigarette
Gail Patrick

A familiar face to watchers of the movies on this blog is that of Gail Patrick, who is superb as the bratty and devilish “Cornelia Bullock”, “Irene’s” spoiled sister. Patrick brings exactly the right measure of venomous glamor to the role, immediately butting heads with “Godfrey” in her evening gown at the dump, giving him a piercingly knowing look when they reunite at the Waldorf, and underscored the next day as she reclines on the sofa and spouts, “There's a spot on my shoe, would you see what you can do about it?” while looking up at him, down at her shoe, and back up at him with relish. Though “Cornelia” and “Godfrey” are constantly jousting, it seems from the start that they understand and know who each other truly are. There’s also a sense that “Cornelia” wants to seduce and dominate “Godfrey” and is trying to navigate just how to do that. She is not a one note character, and Patrick makes her interesting, believable, and someone we love to hate. Patrick appeared as a similar deliciously wicked character in La Cava’s next film, “Stage Door”, and you can read more about the interesting life and career of Gail Patrick my post on that classic.


Jean Dixon and William Powell as the help in the kitchen in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Another absolutely delightful performance is that of Jean Dixon who plays “Molly”, the “Bullock’s” longtime, cynical maid. “Molly” has seen it all, telling “Godfrey”, “Don’t you worry about me, I’m a seasoned campaigner”, and Dixon brings a sensational jaded quality such as when showing “Godfrey” around the “Bullock’s” home his first morning. Dixon handles wisecracks and quips with heavenly skill, such as her banter with “Godfrey” when he first arrives and she’s in the kitchen doing a crossword puzzle. He asks her, “May I be frank”, to which she asks “Is that your name?”, to which he replies, “Well, my name is ‘Godfrey’”, to which she replies, “All right, be frank”. Her timing and deadpan delivery make the scene especially funny. It’s yet another of the film’s dazzling comedic performances.


Jean Dixon is Molly the maid in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Portrait photo of Hollywood Broadway movie star film actress comedienne Jean Dixon
Jean Dixon

The daughter of a theater owner, Connecticut-born Jean Dixon studied acting in France with the great Sarah Bernhardt, and later made her Broadway debut in 1926's "Wooden Kimono". By 1929 she established herself as a fine Broadway comedienne known for acerbic, sarcastic deliveries (which we see in full force in "My Man Godfrey”). She had a very successful Broadway career and became a favorite of esteemed theater director, producer, and playwright George S. Kaufman, who wrote plays with her in mind such as "Once in a Lifetime" and "June Moon". In addition to a thriving theater career on and off Broadway, Dixon appeared in 13 films starting with 1929’s "The Lady Lies" and ending with the 1938 classic "Holiday", starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. "My Man Godfrey" remains her most famous film role, and her other films include "I'll Love You Always", La Cava's "She Married Her Boss", and "Swing High, Swing Low" (with Lombard). She made three TV appearances and a final Broadway appearance in 1959's "The Gang's All Here" before retiring. She married once. Jean Dixon died in 1981 at the age of 87, about six months after the death of her husband.


Eugene Pallette is the husband and father Alexander Bullock in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

portrait photo of Hollywood film character actor movie star Eugene Pallette
Eugene Pallette

Not to be outdone by anyone is the sensational Eugene Pallette as “Alexander Bullock” the husband and father of this crazy crew. Like the rest of the cast, Pallette was equally gifted at drama and comedy, and we can see both at work. His reactions are priceless, such as how he watches “Carlo” imitate a gorilla, or his double take when finding a horse in the library. And the subtle way “Alexander”, a former middleweight champion, walks “Godfrey” down the stairs ready to fight is also hysterical. As the most sane of the group, Pallette also gets a few serious moments and does marvelously by them, such as his perfect delivery at the end of his conversation about business with “Godfrey” when he exclaims, "Say. Who are you?”, or his final scene which is quite moving. It’s also fun how “Alexander” alludes to himself being a “forgotten man” because his family just about ignores him. A prolific actor who began in silent films and appeared in 263 films spanning 1913 to 1946, you can read more about Eugene Pallette's life and career in my post on the 1938 classic, "The Adventures of Robin Hood”.


Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, and Mischa Auer in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Mischa Auer humorously portrays “Carlo”, “Angelica’s” gigolo, a tormented artist always hungry for food. Like the entire cast, Auer gives his all, feigning agony while leaning on the living room doors at the mention of money, or singing his overly dramatic song at the piano, “Ochi Chyornye”. Auer’s big moment is when he imitates a gorilla to cheer up “Irene”, and he astoundingly moves about just like one, jumping over furniture, growling in “Irene’s” face, and hanging high on giant doors. It is outlandish comedy at its best. Auer’s performance made him famous and garnered him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination. 


Mischa Auer plays Carlo a gigolo in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominated role in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

portrait photo of young movie star Russian Hollywood Europen film character actor Mischa Aueer
Mischa Auer

As a young boy, Russian-born Mischa Auer lost his father in the Russo-Japanese war and was separated from his mother in the Bolshevik revolution. After roaming around Siberia parentless, he returned to his home of St. Petersburg where he found his mother by chance, and with a food shortage, the two nearly starved. When he was 13 his mother died. Auer sold her jewels and eventually made his way to stay with his grandfather, Leopold Auer, a well-known violinist living in New York. The young Auer took to the stage, and while on tour in Los Angeles, began appearing in movies starting with 1928's "Something Always Happens". By 1936, he had over eighty films under his belt including "Mata Hari", "The Sign of the Cross", "Gabriel Over the White House", "Anna Karenina", and "The Princess Comes Across", though in mostly unexciting roles. Then came his first comedy, "My Man Godfrey”, and everything changed. His career took off and he worked often in comedies, usually as a crazy Russian. Auer worked in theater, radio, and some TV, and spent time making films in Europe from the 1950s onward. Of the 160+ films in which he appeared, others include "You Can't Take It with You", "Destry Rides Again", "Three Smart Girls", "And Then There Were None”, and "Hold That Ghost”. He was married four times. Mischa Auer died in 1967 at the age of 61.


Jane Wyman is an extra, with Franklin Pangborn and Willaim Powell in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

portrait photo of young Hollywood movie star film actress Jane Wyman
Jane Wyman

Just a quick mention that Oscar-winning actress Jane Wyman appears as an extra in “My Man Godfrey”. She’s hard to spot, but can be seen at the back of the crowd at the Waldorf Ritz when “Godfrey” is standing on the podium. It’s a quick moment and if you’re interested in spotting her, she appears after “Godfrey” tells "Angelica" about being unwanted, saying: ”On the contrary, I sometimes find it a great advantage". After that line, the auctioneer moves and Wyman can be seen behind him in black with what look like two white ribbons in her hair. She’s seen for a second until "Irene" jumps up and blocks her. You can read about the life and career of Jane Wyman in my post on “All That Heaven Allows”.



Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, Carole Lombard, Mischa Auer, Alice Brady as the Bullocks in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
“My Man Godfrey”

In addition to being the first film to earn Academy Award nominations in all four acting categories (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress), “My Man Godfrey” has the dubious honor (as of this writing) of being the only film to receive those four major nominations plus the other two major nominations, Best Director and Best Screenplay, without being nominated for Best Picture. It is also only one of two films (to date) to receive those nominations and not win an Oscar (the other film being 2013’s “American Hustle”, which earned ten nominations and won none). "My Man Godfrey" was colorized at one point, but I highly suggest watching it in its intended glorious black and white.


Carole Lombard and William Powell star in the 1936 screwball comedy film classic movie "My Man Godfrey"
"My Man Godfrey"

Get ready for a film at the very top of the pantheon of screwball comedies. The dialogue is witty and reflective, the performances are golden, and the astute direction ties it all together in an uproariously electrifying package. Enjoy the hilarious “My Man Godfrey”!



This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform through watching a recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and more. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications of every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!



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4 Comments


Eduardo Ramirez
Eduardo Ramirez
May 15

I think this is my favorite screwball comedy from the classic era, everything about it works marvelously, starting with Powell and Lombard, their chemistry is insanely good and i still find hard to believe they were actually divorced when they made this. And then the supporting cast and a hysterically hilarious screenplay, but it's also a biting critique to the class division and the post-depression economy.

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
May 15
Replying to

I agree it's one of the best!

Lombard and Powell had an amicable divorce and remained friends for the rest of her life. Still, it is a testament to their talents that they could be so intimate in this film.

Thanks so much for leaving your thoughts Eduardo! :)

Jay

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Frayedknotarts
Frayedknotarts
Apr 13

Screwball comedy of the 30's was NEVER any better than this. It helps if you grew up in the approximate era (just to get some of the slang) but it will appeal to anyone who has an appreciation for 30's movies.


Lub it, Lub it, Lub it. I even memorized the credits! (Especially the opening credits, a masterpiece in and of themselves!)🤣

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
Apr 13
Replying to

Thanks Frayedknotarts! It is certainly one of the best screwballs ever made. And I agree, the credits are a masterpiece.

Thanks so much for leaving comments. You made my day!

Jay

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