From first release in September, 1936, 'My Man Godfrey' was a box-office smash-hit and it went on to create huge profits for Universal Pictures. In 1999 it was selected by the United States Library of Congress, for preservation in the national film registry.
'My Man Godfrey' is a comedy with a dark twist. Undeniably funny, even today, it was made in 1936 when memories of the Great Depression were still vivid and still painful. The term "forgotten man" would have evoked images of queues of unemployed men waiting for handouts. The film faces the unpleasantness head on, comparing the idiocy of the wealthy socialites with the quiet courage and dignity of the poverty-stricken unemployed.
The moral is still relevant today and the film is an example of movie-making at its best.
PlotThe plot is delightfully screwball. Carole Lombard plays Irene Bullock, the younger daughter of a wealthy New York family. She and her elder sister, Cornelia, played by Gail Patrick enter a scavenger hunt and visit a rubbish dump to try to find a "forgotten" man. Irene finds Godfrey, played by William Powell, and takes him home to her parents' house and makes him the family butler.
It is like a fairy story,of course. Irene falls in love with Godfrey, who turns out to have come from a wealthy Boston family. She becomes determined to marry him whilst he becomes equally determined to show her dotty family the error of their ways. There's a happy ending, and a moral to the story. Every character in the film is affected by Godfrey's innate decency and each learns a little something about themselves and about life.
ProductionShooting began in April, 1936 and lasted 42 days. The budget was the relatively low figure of $650,000.
Gregory La Cava was adamant that William Powell should play Godfrey and he was duly borrowed from MGM. Powell in turn stipulated that he would only play the part if Carole Lombard could play Irene. Powell and Lombard had already gone through an amicable divorce three years earlier after being married from from 1931 to 1933. Although the studio had originally considered both Constance Bennett and Miriam Hopkins for the role, they acceded to La Cava's wishes.
Screenwriter and author, Morrie Ryskind was hired to write the screenplay together with the author of the original novel on which the film was based. Ryskind's methods, which included improvisation with the actors on set, tied in with the preferred methods of La Cava who was known for often shooting without a script.
Main CastWilliam Powell ... Godfrey
Carole Lombard ... Irene Bullock
Alice Brady ... Angelica Bullock
Gail Patrick ... Cornelia Bullock
Eugene Pallette ... Alexander Bullock
Jean Dixon ... Molly
Alan Mowbray ... Tommy Gray
Mischa Auer ... Carlo
Pat Flaherty ... Mike Flaherty
Robert Light ... Faithful George
Grady Sutton ... Charlie Van Rumple (uncredited)
CreditsDirector ... Gregory La Cava
Producer ... Charles R. Rogers
Screenplay ... Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind
Music ... Charles Previn, Rudy Schrager, (both uncredited)
Cinematography ... Ted Tetzlaff
Distribution Company ... Universal Pictures
Release date ... September 6, 1936
Running time ... 94 minutes
Academy AwardsNo Wins:
Six Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Director ... Gregory La Cava
Best Actor ... William Powell
Best Actress ... Carole Lombard
Best Writing, Screenplay ... Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind
Best Supporting Actor ... Mischa Auer
Best Supporting Actress ... Alice Brady