12 May 2012

My Man Godfrey ('36)

Liked this movie beginning at
and until

Director Gregory La Cava also directed one of my favorite movies, Stage Door ('37). His bio reads in that badass OG kind of way -- drinking buddies with W.C. Fields, producer of dozens of cartoons beginning in 1916, first feature in 1921 (His Nibs, the name of the movie was His Nibs), and in 1936 he made this movie My Man Godfrey, which was the first movie to receive four acting nominations at the Academy Awards, in the year the supporting categories were introduced. It was a four-time loser. During his career his movies received sixteen Oscar nominations and never won any. His output in the 40s was limited and he died in Malibu California on a Saturday in March 1952, nine days before his 60th birthday.

Gregory La Cava was an OG. Respect.

My Man Godfrey was filmed during the depression. In the movie the rich people are insane or idiotic and every one of them is an alcoholic. William Powell plays the titular Godfrey. At the movie's beginning he's a 'forgotten man' and encounters the Bullock family when sisters Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Irene (Carole Lombard) find him at the city dump and attempt to use him as a retrieved item for a scavenger hunt. Irene then asks him to be their house butler.

Irene: Can you butle? 
Godfrey: Butle? 
Irene: Yes, we're fresh out of butlers. The one we had left this morning.

Notice how insane and idiotic the movie's setup is.

It's great material for a screwball comedy because those comedies knew how to make insanity funny and funny insane. This movie's theme concerns having a backbone and not losing yourself to self-misery, and I think it's cool how a lot of laughs come from character and situational shortcomings. The message is something like "well, fuck, everything's fucked, everything's so fucked I refuse to feel miserable." The message is embodied by Godfrey, who I think speaks those exact words at one point in the movie.

Alexander Bullock: I want to apologize for my family. They're all slightly hysterical.

The father and head of this pack of loonies is Alexander (Eugene Pallette). He seems fully aware of his family's shortcomings but remains their pillar of support, never judging them, and trying his best not to let them down. Because of this, and because of his stature in the business world and community, and his rotundity, and 'manliness,' and affable deep voice, to me he represents many dead and dying and persisting American values.

Angelica Bullock: Oh, Alexander, you missed all the excitement.
Alexander Bullock: What's going on?
Angelica: Oh, let me see. I knew what it was I wanted to say, but somehow it slipped my mind.
Alexander: What's the matter with Irene?
Angelica: Oh, yes, that's it. Irene's got herself engaged! 
Alexander: To whom?
Angelica: Oh, I don't know, Van something-or-other. I think he's the boy with his arm around that girl in pink. He's got lots of money.
Alexander: Well, he'll need it.

Irene falls in love with Godfrey and proves her love to him by being outrageously dramatic and emotional. I didn't realize while watching the movie that she's supposed to be a teenager. Lombard was 27 at the time. Makes sense that her character is a teenager, and explains some of the outrageousness of her character, considering how extreme and intense and irrational teenagers can be.

The maid also falls in love with Godfrey. She's not treated as a serious contender. Guess even in '36 the rich and beautiful were the lords of Hollywood -- feel like there were more class barriers back then as well, even though Irene falls in love with a forgotten man. I don't know, maybe the movie wanted to be lean and short and didn't have time to develop the maid but wanted to hint at her rich interior life. And the movie knows the maid represents the majority of the theater audience, also in love with William Powell, and also not serious contenders.

Somebody fuck the maid
The movie doesn't say why you should keep going, but says continuing to go is better than dying. They keep it simple, but the simplicity of this message has a force and weight that's powerful and lasting.

Irene: Life is but an empty bubble.

May I tie something together -- life, which ends in certain death, is like this movie, which ends in that Hollywood way. Because you know where it's going is why it should be as fun as possible along the way.

Seems like old Hollywood knew this and could do it in a perfect and pure way. I don't mean 'pure' as 'innocent,' in fact I mean the opposite, I mean that back then they perfected the design of pure entertainment. Their movies were designed from the materials of humanity, in order to create a beast of cinema that could fight away our inner demons. When moviemakers of the contemporary age try to take what they did but add this or that and subtract this or that it doesn't work, because perfection and 'add' or 'subtract' are incompatible.

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