My Man Godfrey

The 1936 screwball comedy My Man Godfrey is witty, but I’m not so sure about this romance.

William Powell stars as Godfrey, a down-on-his-luck fellow who’s fallen financially and is living on a city ash heap, which reminded me of the ash land in The Great Gatsby. One night socialite Irene, played by Carole Lombard, rescues Godfrey from the ash heap. To help Irene win her bizarre scavenger hunt, Godfrey agrees to allow her to use him as a “forgotten man,” the last item on her team’s list. Her exclusive club has its members who’re dripping in diamonds running about the city collecting goats, bird cages, flower carts, Japanese goldfish and a “forgotten men.” These crash elites treat people as objects and Godfrey plays along out of curiosity to see how horrible these people can be.

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Though ditzy, Irene isn’t half bad. She soon decides to hire Godfrey as the family butler. She doesn’t realize how she’s still objectifying him but there’s something wise about Godfrey. He realizes what’s going on and how clueless Irene is, but he’s willing to play along because he doesn’t romanticize poverty to the degree that he thinks sleeping in the ash heap is more honorable than sleeping in a clean, heated bedroom.

From day one the family’s clever maid sets Godfrey straight. The family is bananas. The mother is a souse, ruled by her caprice. The oldest daughter is a mean snob who plots to get Godrey arrested. A human bank, the father is ineffective, long suffering, tuned out like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Finally, the mother’s protege is a human eating machine who’s willing to be a toy for the mother in exchange for a free ride.

Irene becomes smitten with Godfrey and won’t take no for an answer no matter how much Godfrey tries to set boundaries. Though all the other butlers were quickly fired or quit in a huff, Godfrey hangs in there. Yet a house party, Godfrey’s true identity is revealed when one of his former Harvard classmates recognizes him. His nemesis Irene’s sister Caroline is intrigued and starts to follow Godfrey around town.

I can’t say My Man Godfrey will become a favorite. While I appreciated the insights and depiction of people who fell in status during the Depression, the two sisters were immature and catty. That’s no surprise because the mother also was an overgrown child.

Screwball comedies are supposed to be silly and over the top. In this regard, the film is a success. I am glad I saw it, but the end didn’t win me over. Perhaps if Irene changed more, perhaps I’d think better.

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I Was a Male War Bride

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The “old” movie I watched this week as part of my 2014 New Year’s resolution was I Was a Male War Bride starring Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan. Grant plays Henri, a French army officer, who must go on a mission with Catherine, an American officer. In true 1940s romantic comedy fashion, neither wants to go with the other and as they travel to find a German lens maker in a small town, they bicker continually, yet wittily, while encountering one mishap after another. In time they admit that their conflict is simply pent up sexual chemistry with a healthy dash of love, they decide to marry.

In occupied Germany after WWII, the newly married couple face a series of wacky bureaucratic problems when they set off for America on army transport. Theirs was a horrible and comical wedding night and honeymoon.

The film was rather dated and contrived. The actors did what could be done with the stilted story and I guess they were assigned by the studio to do this so so movie in a pre-TV era when new content had to be cranked out.

Forever Female

After seeing Monkey Business last week, Netflix recommended Forever Female with Ginger Rogers as a successful actress smitten with a younger playwright, played my William Holden. Anxious to write professionally and give up his job at the fruit market, Holden agrees to altar his play so that Rogers can play the lead. In the original the lead is a 19 year old woman, but Holden gets convinced that the pay will work better with a 29 year old, the oldest age Rogers’ character’s willing to admit to.

To complicate matters, there’s a young 19 year old starlet who changes her name ever week and half it seems who’s convinced she should play the lead and Holden was made for her.

It’s a fun film, light and witty. Not a must see, but enjoyable.

Monkey Business

A list of Most Influential Films I got during Act One’s Screenwriting program included Monkey Business with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. Grant plays a fuddy-duddy scientist, complete with Coke bottle glasses, who’s working on a formula that acts as a fountain of youth. He’s married to Edwina, a beautiful, devoted, rational woman. It’s a screwball comedy that follows the consequences of a lab monkey’s fiddling with the formula and explores what might happen if sane adults really could turn back the clock.

The film’s light and silly, but works because you see enough intelligence and dignity from Grant, Rogers and the supporting cast which includes a young Marilyn Monroe as a young secretary who responds to her boss’ complaints about her punctuation by being “careful to get here before nine.”

Corny?

Oh, yes, but fine since it’s not stupid. Still I’m not sure why this film was so influential.

The film’s theme is summed up in Barnaby’s quote:

Barnaby: I’ve i’ve decided that the formula is the most dubious discovery since itching powder and just about as useful.

Edwina: Oh I wouldn’t say that. It cured your bursistis, it improved your vision, I must say it made you feel young.

Barnaby: Hmmph. I’m beginning to wonder if being young is all it’s cracked up to be. The dream of youth! We remember it as a time of nightengales and valentines . And what are the facts? Maladjustments, near idiocy, and a series of low comedy disasters that’s what youth is. I don’t see how anyone survies it.

Monroe doesn’t figure in the story that much. She’s featured in the early part of the film and less so in the middle and end. It’s strange that she’s featured so prominently on the DVD case. It’s clearly Grant and Rogers’ film and it’s not like either are hard on the eyes.

She never wears this dress in the film