|My Man Godfrey|
|Directed by||Gregory La Cava|
|Produced by||Charles R. Rogers|
|Screenplay by||Morrie Ryskind|
Robert Presnell Sr.
|Based on||1101 Park Avenue|
by Eric Hatch
|Music by||Charles Previn|
|Edited by||Ted J. Kent|
Russell F. Schoengarth
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
My Man Godfrey is a 1936 American screwball comedy film directed by Gregory La Cava and starring William Powell and Carole Lombard, who had been briefly married years before appearing together in the film. The screenplay for My Man Godfrey was written by Morrie Ryskind, with uncredited contributions by La Cava, based on 1101 Park Avenue, a short novel by Eric S. Hatch. The story concerns a socialite who hires a derelict to be her family's butler, and then falls in love with him.
In 1999, the original version of My Man Godfrey was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The film was remade in 1957 with June Allyson and David Niven in the starring roles.
During the Great Depression, Godfrey "Smith" Parke is living with other men down on their luck at a New York City dump in a Hooverville on the East River near the 59th Street Bridge. One night, a spoiled socialite named Cornelia Bullock offers him $5 to be her "forgotten man" for a scavenger hunt. Annoyed, he advances on her, causing her to retreat and fall on a pile of ashes. She leaves in a fury, much to the glee of her younger sister and rival, Irene. After talking with Irene, Godfrey finds her to be kind, though a bit scatter-brained. He offers to go with her to help her beat Cornelia.
In the ballroom of the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel, Irene's long-suffering businessman father Alexander Bullock waits resignedly as his ditsy wife Angelica and her mooching protégé Carlo play the game. Godfrey arrives and is authenticated as a "forgotten man". He then addresses the crowd, expressing his contempt for their antics. Irene is apologetic and offers him a job as the family butler, which he gratefully accepts.
Godfrey is shown what to do by the Bullocks' wise-cracking maid Molly. She warns him that he is merely the latest in a long line of butlers. Godfrey proves to be surprisingly competent and resourceful. Irene considers him her protégé, but Cornelia holds a grudge against him.
Tommy Gray, a lifelong friend of Godfrey, recognizes him working at a tea party thrown by Irene. Godfrey makes up a story that he was Tommy's valet at Harvard. Tommy plays along, embellishing Godfrey's story with a nonexistent wife and five children. Dismayed, Irene impulsively announces her engagement to the surprised Charlie Van Rumple, but breaks down in tears and flees after being congratulated by Godfrey.
Over lunch the next day, Tommy is curious to know what one of the elite "Parkes of Boston" is doing as a servant. Godfrey explains that a broken love affair left him considering suicide, but the undaunted attitude of the men living at the dump rekindled his spirits.
Irene breaks her engagement to Charlie. Cornelia attempts to seduce Godfrey on his day off; offended by his candid rebuff, she plants her pearl necklace under Godfrey's mattress and calls the police. The police search the butler's room but find nothing, distressing Cornelia. Realizing his daughter orchestrated the whole thing, Mr. Bullock informs Cornelia she had better find her un-insured pearls.
The Bullocks send their daughters to Europe to get Irene away from her now-broken engagement. When they return, however, Cornelia implies that she intends to seduce Godfrey. Worried, Irene stages a fainting spell and swoons into Godfrey's arms. He carries her to her room, but realizes she is faking. He puts her in a cold shower, which confirms her hopes: "Oh Godfrey, now I know you love me ... You do or you wouldn't have lost your temper." Godfrey resigns as the Bullocks' butler.
Mr. Bullock has more pressing concerns, however. He throws Carlo out, then announces to his family and Godfrey that his business is failing and he might face criminal charges for embezzlement. Godfrey interrupts with good news: he had sold short, using some of the money raised by pawning Cornelia's pearl necklace to buy up the stocks that Bullock sold. He gives the stock back to the stunned Mr. Bullock, saving the family from ruin, then returns the necklace to a humbled Cornelia. He then leaves.
With his remaining profits and Tommy as a business partner, Godfrey has built The Dump, a fashionable nightclub, creating fifty new jobs for the other forgotten men. A determined Irene finds him and bulldozes him into marrying her, saying, "Stand still, Godfrey. It'll all be over in a minute."
The film was based on a 1935 novel by Eric S. Hatch. Charles Rogers, head of Universal, called it "a sure-fire laugh-getting novel". That studio purchased the film rights and assigned Hatch to write the script with Morrie Ryskind, who received top billing for the screenplay. Rogers hired Gregory La Cava to direct, "the best comedy director in Hollywood."
It was the first major film from Universal after that studio had been taken over by new management, including head of production Charles Rogers. However the studio did not have any major stars under contract apart from Buck Jones, Boris Karloff and Edward Everett Horton, and needed to borrow some from other studios.
The studio's original choice to play Irene, the part eventually played by Carole Lombard, was Constance Bennett, and Miriam Hopkins also was considered, but the director Gregory La Cava only would agree to Bennett if Universal borrowed William Powell from MGM. Powell, for his part, only would take the role if Carole Lombard played Irene. Powell and Lombard had divorced three years earlier.
Powell's casting was announced in January 1936. Universal borrowed Lombard from Paramount. As part of the deal, Universal loaned Paramount Margaret Sullavan for the film I Love a Soldier and Lombard's clothes designer, Travis Banton, accompanied her. Alice Brady joined the cast in March.
My Man Godfrey was in production from April 15 to May 27, 1936, and then had retakes in early June of the year. Its budget was $575,375, and Powell was paid $87,500 and Lombard $45,645. The film was one of the first under the new regime of Charles Rogers at Universal, although it had been developed under his predecessor Carl Laemmle Jr.
La Cava, a former animator and freelancer for most of his film career, held studio executives in contempt, and was known to be a bit eccentric. When he and Powell hit a snag over a disagreement about how Godfrey should be portrayed, they settled things over a bottle of Scotch. The next morning, La Cava showed up for shooting with a headache, but Powell didn't appear. Instead, the actor sent a telegram stating: "WE MAY HAVE FOUND GODFREY LAST NIGHT BUT WE LOST POWELL. SEE YOU TOMORROW."
When tensions hit a high point on the set, Lombard had a habit of inserting four letter words into her dialogue, often to the great amusement of the cast. This made shooting somewhat difficult, but clips of her cursing in her dialogue and messing up her lines can still be seen in blooper reels.
It was the first film released under the aegis of Charles Rogers and was given a big premiere. My Man Godfrey premiered on September 6, 1936, and was released in the United States on the 17th of September. It was a runaway hit and earned huge profits for the studio.
The movie was one of the most acclaimed comedies of 1936. Writing for The Spectator in 1936, Graham Greene gave the film a moderately positive review, characterizing it as "acutely funny [for three-quarters of its way]". Particularly praising the scene of the scavenging party, Greene finds it to be "perhaps the wittiest, as well as noisiest, sequence of the year". Considering the end of the film, however, he notes that "the social conscience is a little confused" and he wishes for a more "dignified exit".
|1937||Academy Awards||Best Director||Gregory La Cava||Nominated|
|Best Actor||William Powell||Nominated|
|Best Actress||Carole Lombard||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Mischa Auer||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Alice Brady||Nominated|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind||Nominated|
My Man Godfrey was the first movie to be nominated in all four acting categories, in the first year that supporting categories were introduced. It's also the only film in Oscar history to receive a nomination in all four acting categories and not be nominated for Best Picture, and was the only film to be nominated in these six categories and not receive any award until 2013's American Hustle.
In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 2000, the film was ranked #44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 funniest comedies, and Premiere voted it one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 100% with an average rating of 8.3/10 with the consensus stating: "A class satire in a class of its own, My Man Godfrey's screwball comedy is as sharp as the social commentary is biting."
The original film is generally thought to have lapsed into the public domain due to a failure to renew the film's copyright after 28 years. However the underlying work, the 1935 book 1101 Park Avenue – re-titled My Man Godfrey with the film's release – had its copyright renewed in 1963 and is thus still in copyright. According to Stanford University Library, and under rulings of Stewart v. Abend, in so-called multilayered works, the rights holder of the original work can claim ownership of the film script, though not the pictures, if the original book is still in copyright. "Films are often based on books .. that may maintain copyright. If the pre-existing work is protected, then rightly or wrongly, it has generally been determined that the derived film is also protected."
In 2002, a restored print was made available on DVD by The Criterion Collection, which featured a new cover art illustrated by Michael Koelsch. In 2005, 20th Century Fox Home Video released a colorized version.
My Man Godfrey was twice adapted as a one-hour radio broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre: on May 9, 1938, with David Niven playing the part of Tommy Gray; and on November 9, 1954, with Jeff Chandler and Julie Adams. It was also adapted to radio in a half-hour version on the October 2, 1946 episode of Academy Award Theater, again starring William Powell. When the film was remade in 1957, David Niven played Godfrey opposite June Allyson, directed by Henry Koster. A stage musical version of My Man Godfrey, produced by Allan Carr and written by librettists Alan Jay Lerner and Kristi Kane and composer Gerard Kenny, was intended for Broadway in 1985, but remained uncompleted at the time of Alan Jay Lerner's death in 1986.
But remember the underlying works may still be copyrighted