What the Butler Knew
It may be a cliche but "they don't make them like they use to" and after watching the simply brilliant "My Man Godfrey" you will find yourself agreeing. Here is an early screwball comedy which puts its foot to the floor in the opening scenes and never lets up for its entire duration with one great moment of comedy after another. In fact it runs the jokes so fast and furious that it does border on the exhausting but with great performances and great writing you don't mind that it is so relentless.
During a society scavenger hunt Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard - To Be or Not to Be) has to find a forgotten man and comes across Godfrey (William Powell - Star of Midnight) living amongst the homeless in the derelict buildings. Having agreed to go with her in order for her to beat her cold sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) in the game Irene offers Godfrey a job as the Bullock's new butler. Despite the Bullocks being a doolaly bunch Godfrey seems adept at dealing with their quirks and Irene's amorous advances towards him. But it soon becomes apparent that Godfrey is not exactly what he seems.
"My Man Godfrey" works and those who love screwball comedies should seek it out because it is a forgotten gem which deserves to be remembered with the likes of "Bringing Up Baby". The reason why starts with the storyline as we have this fun set up of Godfrey being a homeless man who is nothing like he seems. Not only do we have the adept way he deals with the crazy Bullock family but the secret over who he really is and why he has chosen to be a homeless man. We learn why when a face from his past shows up and he has to do his best to keep up the pretence of whom he says he is.
But the simple storyline is buoyed by some great comedy writing which fires back and forth so rapidly that it is exhausting. It is not just the speed of the amusing banter as there is relentlessness to it as one joke follows another and gags often sees the dialogue rebounding between several characters at the same time. Plus there is the eccentricity of the Bullock family be it the loved up Irene mooning over Godfrey or her mother with her doolaly ways and her protege Carlo. And to add to that there is the always consistent Eugene Pallette as the father of the family who has to deal with his quirky family.
But these characters come alive because of the actors and William Powell is brilliant from start to finishing as the unflusterable Godfrey whilst Carole Lombard is hysterical as the mooning and dippy Irene. There is also Gail Patrick delivering a wonderfully icy performance as Irene's sister Cornelia who takes delight in trying to get rid of Godfrey. All these actors fire out their dialogue so sharply that despite being full of clever lines it never feels scripted.
What this all boils down to is that "My Man Godfrey" is a must watch for anyone who loves screwball comedies from the golden age of Hollywood. And for anyone who wonders why people like me say "they don't make them like they use to" need to watch this to understand why.