Thursday, July 11, 2013

6. My Man Godfrey

1936; dir. Gregory La Cava; starring Carole Lombard, William Powell, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette
My views: 20

Even though they have essentially nothing to do with each other, My Man Godfrey and The Major and the Minor will always be linked in my brain.  They were two of the first old movies my mom got from the library to watch with me, they were the first two movies I counted in 2003, and they were the two movies I showed at my birthday party that year.  While my friends really enjoyed The Major and the Minor, none of them got into My Man Godfrey.  In their defense, we were watching a particularly bad VHS copy so it was pretty hard to hear the dialogue, but I also think that it takes several viewings to fully appreciate this film because it has so many layers.

Of course, the first thing I loved about this movie was the screwball comedy element.  I hadn't really been exposed to that genre much before, and this is one of the best, so it was a good place to start.  The entire cast is perfect, and I love the chemistry between Carole Lombard and William Powell (which I'd think would be awkward for them considering they were divorced in real life), but Alice Brady in particular is hilarious.  I always seem to bring up my brother when talking about screwball comedies, since he's the only person I know who appreciates them more than I do, and this is no exception because when I first became obsessed with this movie, he became obsessed with Angelica Bullock.  At six years old, he did a flawless Alice Brady impression and was particularly fond of quoting her line about gentlemen's underwear.  There was a period when it seemed like the two of us were reciting this movie constantly.  I think a huge part of the reason I was so delighted with this film has to do with what my mom calls "snappy patter," which is basically the dialogue, but even more than that, it's the perfectly timed way the dialogue is spoken.  A lot of the movies I've seen at least ten times have this, particularly His Girl Friday, Stage Door, and Bringing Up Baby, and it's always one of my favorite things about those movies.  It's particularly prevalent in movies from the 1930s and has since mostly faded from the screen, but there have been some recent attempts at bringing it back, perhaps the best effort being the show Gilmore Girls.  But anyway, when I first saw My Man Godfrey I didn't know that snappy patter was a thing; I just knew that I loved the way these characters talked and that I wanted to talk like them.  Many important plot points occur off-screen, which would probably be annoying to a lot of modern-day movie-goers who are used to seeing everything, but is one of the main things that drew me to this film and others like it.  I don't need a lot of action to keep me interested in a film, provided the dialogue is clever enough, and in My Man Godfrey it certainly is.

It wasn't until I'd seen this movie enough times to have it memorized that I realized how much more there is to it than comedic dialogue.  In addition to being a story about a wacky rich family with servant problems, it's a story about helping people and finding help in unexpected places.  It's a story about love and struggling to find one's place in the world.  All of these deeper themes and messages really started to resonate with me as I grew into my later teens, which is one of the main reasons I kept watching this even when I started getting tired of screwball comedies and kind of took a break from them.  This film's perfect combination of humor and seriousness is what has secured its place on this list and what I'm sure will keep me revisiting it for many years to come.