Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Man Godfrey(1936)

A small downside of being a cinephile (I have no idea when did I start calling myself that but I think it will do and I am really not complaining as well) is sometimes feeling that movies do not amuse me as much as they used to. Well, there was also the fact that I wasn't watching as many movies as I do now as well. So, it is always easy to win in a less competitive market. But, back then then it was easy to fall for a movie. Now, I have kind of raised bars for them myself. But, once in a while, a movie comes along and not only jumps over that bar but also clears it by fair margin. 12 Angry Men(1957) did that by sweeping me off my feet, Ian Holm and Sarah Polley did that by telling a very honest story of loss in The Sweet Hereafter(1997) and so did Waltz with Bashir(2006) by telling a story I never imagined can be told as an animation. So, even though it is little rare, it is good to come across a movie which gives you an experience you never had before or forgotten completely about it. My Man Godfrey(1936) did something similar for me. It made me laugh out loud so many times that I started thinking about when was the last time I laughed so much watching the movie for first time. Now, I know that I am talking about a movie that is more than 75 years old, but it is nice to see a movie with fresh and healthy sense of humour. They don't make them anymore like that, do they?

So, In My Man Godfrey(1936), a screwball comedy set during the depths of depression, Godfrey is a 'Forgotten Man' leaving in the city dump who helps Irene Bullocks win high society socialite scavenger hunt. A little while earlier, he not only has insulted her sister - Cornelia -  but also has pushed on the heap of ash, for asking him to do the exact same thing - appear in this scavenger hunt with her. Now, since Godfrey helped her beat her sister, Irene wants to do something to help him as well. He asks for a job and she hires him as a butler for Bullocks Household. Apparently, they have lost one. When Godfrey appears next day, transformed completely in crisp suit, clean shaven face and polished, sophisticated demeanor, reason why they lost previous butler or butlers becomes very evident - it is because every single character in Bullocks households is nuts. There is Irene, who has a childish temperament like riding a horse right into the house and parking it in Library. Her sister Cornelia is bitter and bitchy probably because she has always had her way in life, who doesn't mind breaking windows on her way home. Then there is their father Alexander who is secretly broke and tired of dealing with Cab drivers demanding their horse parked in his library and subpoena for breaking neighbors window glasses. Their mother Angelica pampers herself with luxury like you have ever seen and even has kept a protege, who can do two things well - eat and gorilla impressions. And their is also Molley, maid who is beyond all the craziness happening around her and warns Godfrey about it as well.

(If you still haven't still watched this movie after more than 75 years after its release, you might want to skip this paragraph. But before that, REALLY ?? You Haven't ? Now that I have seen it, I have all the right to say this to you. Go, Watch it First.) When they meet for the first time, it is rather evident that Irene is taking an uncharacteristic interest in Godfrey despite of him being a bum, primarily because she has never seen someone push her sister on pile of ash. But after she sees Godfrey next day in his best apparel and manner, she is swept off the floor by him. However, he takes pride in his proper behaviour and doesn't hesitate to show her the way out, politely off course. As he goes on going his regular duties, you start to suspect if there is more to him than what meets your eye as it is later confirmed when one of the guests for house tea-party recognizes him as Harvard classmate. Off course, none of the Bullocks realize that he is too good to be a butler since they are too busy in their own indulges. It appears that Godfrey is the prodigal son of Bostonian family just like Bullocks but has fallen out of their graces due to certain affiliation to a woman and now is looking for complete start-over. During his time in those city dumps, she has developed certain affection to 'forgotten men' he was with and wishes to somehow make their lives happier. Now with a well to do college friend by his side, might just be the right time for him to make that happen.

What makes this comedy work is characters and dialogues written perfectly to exploit the slapstick nature of it, but most importantly actors doing their job exactly the way they are supposed to. I really don't know any of the actors, so I can only judge them based on their performance in this movie but they all did a wonderful job. William Powell playing a titular character of Godfrey looks like right out of Butler Academy, if there is one. Every single thing about him is reflection of the position he finds himself in throughout the movie. However, real highlight of the movie for me was Carole Lombard as smitten kitten Irene. Perfection is the only word to describe her in it. Let it be her - apparently heart broken, in her own tea-party or elated her, wiping dishes with Godfrey. You might say she was little over the top but in my opinion that is the perfect way to play this character. Otherwise, how do you say something as ridiculous as "Do You Buttle? " with utmost sincerity. Their mother, played by Alice Brady provided quite a few moments that had me in splits. I simply can not imagine someone can say something like "If you are going to be rude to my daughter, you might at least take your hat off" or "He is the first thing she has shown any affection to since her Pomeranian died last summer" but when she did say that, I was literally on the floor, rolling. Believe me, I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. I should also mention Eugene Pallette playing their father, Gail Patrick playing Cornelia and Jean Dixon playing Molly, who do a fine job as well.

If you want to pick them, I can pick few flaws in it as well. There are more of a plot points, but you can say that Godfrey's plan of city dump a little too simplistic or some pretty slick stock market plan which almost literally saves Bullock family to come on to the road, little implausible. Even though I do agree with this, I am ready to discount this given the slapstick nature of film. And besides, I didn't really mind it as I was little busy wiping my eyes off with tears of laughter. So, don't bother too much, give it a go for laugh or two. They say, it makes your life longer !!

Rating(out of 5):

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