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My Man Godfrey


My Man Godfrey (1936)

     My Man Godfrey is one film of which I do not think I will ever get enough. It helps that I am a huge fan of both Carole Lombard and William Powell, but the content of the picture really stands the test of time. I watched this for the third time with family on Easter and it made a nice end to the holiday.

     Lombard as Irene Bullock comes across “forgotten man” Godfrey Smith (Powell) in a homeless camp at the city dump during the course of a scavenger hunt that requires she deliver such an unwanted specimen to the home base of the shenanigans. Irene wins Godfrey over after her sister, Cornelia (Gail Patrick), insults  him and he pushes her in an ash pile. We immediately learn that although she is part of the upper crust of society, Irene is uncharacteristically hyper and goofy. Whereas others of her class are repulsed by the filthy man, she stands too close and holds his hand. After beating her bratty sister in the scavenger hunt, Irene offers Godfrey a job as the family’s butler, which he gladly accepts.

     Butling for the Bullocks is no easy task, Godfrey quickly learns. The mother sees pixies when she is hung over, Cornelia is a royal bitch day and night, and Irene has never learned about “certain proprieties” that instruct not to, for example, sit on the butler’s bed. Godfrey sticks it out, however, even after Irene kisses him following a dramatic spell she feigns to ward off her sister’s suggestion they not keep Godfrey on.

     After suffering a number of insults from Godfrey, Cornelia takes measures to expel the servant and tries to frame him for stealing a pearl necklace. Without giving away a secret of the plot, I’ll say that although he does not allow himself to get caught with the hot jewelry, Godfrey does not return it either and instead uses it to save the family’s skin later on.

     The Bullock family is composed of lunatics, except for the father/husband (Eugene Pallette). The mother (Alice Brady) is as airheaded as Irene and keeps a piano-playing protegé in the house, Carlo (Mischa Auer), who finds more time to eat than to practice and likes to make a big dramatic show of upset any time money is discussed. Irene is a fast-spoken, melodramatic blonde. When she learns Godfrey is married with five children, she announces her engagement to an unsuspecting party-goer and then proceeds to cry on the stairs. She poses dramatically and talks about no one caring if she dies because Godfrey has rejected her.

     The story also has a great secondary appeal for me in its strong message about homelessness. Godfrey talks about how the only difference between a businessman and a derelict is want of a job and how a helping hand can go a long way.

     I think My Man Godfrey will be a film that remains funny well into the future. Most Americans might not employ butlers any longer and the concept of marrying within ones social class has mostly gone out the window, but the humor that lies within the story is everlasting. The Bullocks are less a representation of the idle rich than they are of the insane rich. Watching that family is like watching a more beautiful version of the Addams Family. This is one of those must-see movies for every cinema fan.

    On a note of background, Powell insisted Lombard be cast in this part, even though it is a bit out of the ordinary for her. She was a great comedienne, but the daffyness she embodies here is new, yet splendid. The two had been married but divorced not long before this project came up. The union was short lived, in large part because their personalities clashed. Powell was reserved, like Godfrey, but Lombard was a foul-mouthed outgoing spirit. Do not fret, however, she found a much more suitable marriage with Clark Gable for the remainder of her truncated life.

Source: Robert Osborne


Love Crazy


Love Crazy (1941)

     Welcome to part two of the accidental trilogy of marriage movie reviews. I managed to watch three movies over two days that all portrayed life after marriage. The first, No More Ladies, was a drama that makes lover-boys rethink their extramarital affairs. Today’s Love Crazy review and tomorrow’s The Palm Beach Story, were made a year apart and take a comedic, albeit sloppy, approach to legalized romance. Coincidentally, all three films get the same mediocre review.

     I always love a William Powell-Myrna Loy movie because the pair have such great comedic chemistry that I do not think I have seen in any other on-screen recurring couple. Unfortunately for Love Crazy, the plot is as harebrained as Powell’s character becomes. After a number of mishaps interrupt Steve and Susan Ireland’s fourth anniversary plans, Powell’s Steve decides to hit the town with neighbor and former girlfriend Isobel (played by Gail Patrick, who also played a mistress in No More Ladies). Loy’s Susan finds out and in a case of mistaken identity lands in the arms of neighbor Ward Willoughby (Jack Carson). Thinking Steve’s interaction with Isobel was confined to the woman’s apartment, Susan leaves and plans a divorce. Steve hatches a plan to behave insane, which will prevent Susan from ending their marriage, but a series of moves by both parties lands Powell in an asylum.

     The movie is marked by plenty of fun Powell moments, such as his hanging by the head from an elevator door and his “freeing” of top hats into a fountain, but the nonsense escalates to the point that one’s head goes spinning. If I were to describe the entire plot it would consume twice as much space as I have already. Love Crazy is more a showcase of Powell and Loy’s comedic genius than of any coherent story line. Ultimately all misunderstandings and Susan’s adamant divorce plans are easily cleared up with a single line from Susan’s mother, which allows for the duration of the flick to spin out of control but being brought back to balance for a quick, easy ending.

     Of the three marriage movies I am reviewing, this one paints the most pleasant picture of wedlock, at least before things get out of control. Susan and Steve clearly love each other even if Susan’s feelings can be easily reversed over unclear circumstances. Love Crazy also serves to illustrate that once a person is declared insane, it is very difficult to prove that one’s actions, even those made in jest, are not more evidence of an ill state of mind. The movie is an entertaining one for its gags but not one that conveys any strong romantic feeling.

No More Ladies


No More Ladies (1935)

      No More Ladies is the first in what has become an inadvertent sequence of movies viewed over the past day that depict various aspects of the strains on married life. For our first, the trauma is infidelity. Look for the next two over the weekend: The Palm Beach Story and Love Crazy.

     Robert Montgomery in his typical romantic roles as an uppercrust suitor always managed to woo me whether he was playing a gent or a cad, but in No More Ladies my current favorite male actor managed to turn me away. Montgomery portrays a playboy — not atypical for him — who defies his opinions on marriage to wed Joan Crawford‘s Marcia. Montgomery’s Sherry cannot, however, avoid temptation in the form of a banjo player played by Gail Patrick, whom I have only seen as the bitch in My Man Godfrey (she’s not making a good name for herself with me).

     Sherry initially lies about his whereabouts but eventually admits his crime with a mere “yes” meant to intimate he slept with the woman. Knowing her husband will likely be a repeat offender, Marcia arranges a strange party that invites the banjo player, a man whose wife Sherry stole away only to drop her (Franchot Tone), and that wife and her new husband. The set up makes for an incredibly awkward situation for all attendees except Marcia who plays like she could not care less.

     Montgomery plays Sherry, the asshole, to a T. The man seems to have no remorse over is unfaithful deeds, which served to send me, like Marcia toward the arms of Tone’s character. Marcia’s behavior during the course of this party and beyond serves to truly teach Sherry a lesson leaving us with a happy ending but no real guarantee that the groom will not stray again.

     No More Ladies is certainly a drama with only occasional comic relief. It is a tragic analysis of the sorts of marriages that were oft portrayed on the screen at this time. Divorce was a fashionable answer to too hastily officiated marriages, but our characters are reluctant to go mainstream in their approach. Even before she devises her revenge scheme, Marcia says she has no intention of divorcing Sherry against her grandmother’s advice. It also perhaps shines a light on the double standard that seemed to exist with extramarital affairs. A mistress for the man is no strange occurence and one with which a wife must live, but allow the woman to take on a superfluous suitor and the husband is shocked and awakened to the harm of fooling about.

     I should note that I inadvertently marked No More Ladies as one I had already seen on the Robert Montgomery Checklist. Lucky for me when it aired this week on TCM, I happened to turn on the TV just in time to catch it from the start.

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