Blast from the past: My Man Godfrey

Evidently I am not a fan of screwball comedies, which is weird considering how much I love talking, good scripts, quick, witty banter, fashion, & beautiful set design.

I watched My Man Godfrey before I knew this fact, and it could have been my first ever screwball film.  I watched it in Professor Brown’s class.

My Man Godfrey is about a socialite in the mid-1930s who picks a hobo up off the street (remember, though, it’s the Great Depression) and hires him as a butler.  As it turns out, he’s quite brilliant and charming, just down on his luck. His mysterious past intrigues one of his employers, and they fall in love.

This is a clip of the movie with some commentary over it that I think is really interesting.  It’s better than the trailer, which is terrible.  (Back then, they really didn’t know how to sell shit.)

I am not sure in which order people are hired to make a film, but if Gregory LaCava hired Morrie Riskind as the screenwriter, then shame on him.  I realize this movie was made only a few years after sound was introduced to film, so I understand the urge to talk as much as possible, but that does not make it all right.  To answer Question 5, this movie relies far too much on the dialogue and not enough on the action.  Every time a character spoke, the dialogue gave me a good sense of who the character was and what their personality was like, but it was definitely overkill.  At one point, I found myself thinking this was like a poor man’s Capra film.  What really put it over the top was the fact that all of the characters were being portrayed as well-educated know-it-alls with an extensive vocabulary and a need to show it off.  It is not necessary to say much to convey the character, especially when most of the speaking does not move the plot forward and the characters are so minor.  There were a few scenes where it seemed like five minutes passed just between the mother and Carlo, or other minor characters.  Also, I understand a lot of the dialogues in those scenes were supposed to be humorous; unfortunately, it was not my kind of comedy, so they just dragged on.  I agree with Elia Kazan when he said, “The more words, usually the lousier the script.”

Part of the reason I felt it was so slow was because LaCava started every scene at the beginning.  I consider myself to have a longer than normal attention span, but in response to Question 8, there are far too many doors opening and closing.  The film just could not keep my attention very well.  Another element needing to be tweaked was the rising line.  Answering Question 12, there was an obvious rising line, and as a viewer, I knew what it was from the very beginning.  I had more of a problem with the “A to Z” part of it.  When Cornelia was planting the pearls and when Godfrey went back to the dump I was a little confused.  The film went back later and explained everything clearly, but while it was happening I was just questioning what the purpose was of those scenes.  Also, the love story started and ended the film, but in between it was stuck in neutral for a while where there was no progress made.  Every one knew they were going to get together in the end; it was just taking them a long time to get there.

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