I was walking to work the other day and had a revelation. I decided then and there that without a doubt, my favorite film is and will forever be My Mad Godfrey with William Powell and Carole Lombard. It is a wonderful film, a perfect example of a screwball comedy. And it provides hope, exemplifies second chances and expresses the worth of the “forgotten man.” You can watch the entire movie below and I highly suggest you do.
My Man Godfrey
Directed by: Gregory La Cava
Produced by: Charles R. Rogers
Written by: Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind, Gregory LaCava (uncredited)
Starring: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Eugene Pallette, Alan Mowbray
Music by: Charles Previn, Rudy Schrager (both uncredited)
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Edited by: Ted J. Kent, Russell F. Schoengarth
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release dates: September 6, 1936
Running time: 94 minutes
Budget: $656,000 (est.)
Box office: $684,200
My Man Godfrey (1936) is one of the 1930’s most delightful, classic screwball comedies. It was directed by Gregory La Cava for Universal and is now considered the definitive screwball comedy, with its social commentary on life during the 30s. The film, filled with marvelous character actors (Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Gail Patrick, and Mischa Auer), resonated with Depression era audiences for its statements on morality and class. [On a side note, the real-life divorced couple of Powell and Lombard were married previous to the film’s making, from 1931 to 1933.] The screenplay by Morrie Ryskind (a co-screenwriter for the Marx Bros.’ A Night at the Opera (1935)) and Eric Hatch was based on Hatch’s own short novel 1011 Fifth Avenue.
The film displays the mad-cap personalities of a wildly rich, eccentric family. One of its members – a flighty socialite/heiress, finds a down-and-out “forgotten man” tramp in a hobo colony during a scavenger hunt, and hires him as the family’s butler. The bum teaches them the realities of life, ultimately regenerates their confused, scattered lives, and reverses the nobility of rich and poor.
The entertaining film was both a commercial and critical success, with six Academy Award nominations (but no wins), including Best Actor (William Powell), Best Actress (Carole Lombard with her sole Oscar nomination), Best Supporting Actor (Mischa Auer), Best Supporting Actress (Alice Brady), Best Director, and Best Screenplay. However, it set a milestone as the first film to receive nominations in all four acting categories and it remains one of the few films with that distinction in addition to not being nominated for Best Picture.
In the same year, another William Powell film – The Great Ziegfeld – won the Best Picture and Best Actress awards, and Powell also appeared in Libeled Lady (1936) and After the Thin Man (1936). The film was remade in 1957 with David Niven as the “forgotten man” and June Allyson (in her next-to-last film) as the Lombard character.
The credits are played, with Charles Previn’s upbeat music, over a sketched, art-deco drawing of a cityscape [New York] next to a river. The camera pans from left to right along the waterside, picking up sequentially-flashing neon signs on the modernistic structures and warehouse buildings of the names of the cast, producer, director, and crew. At the conclusion of the pan, the camera stops on a dark, silhouetted view of a great bridge. In the foreground is a smoky city dump, where chimneys of a shantytown are visible. The drawing dissolves into a live-action image, revealing a a scene shrouded in darkness. A bum rakes a fire, and a dump truck expels trash. Refuse pickers are combing and picking through the mounds of discarded cans next to the East River.
Two men exchange a short, casual conversation. They speak about how great it would be if the police went after the real criminals and left them alone: “Well, I figured out a swell racket and everything was going great until the cops came along…If them cops would stick to their own racket and leave honest guys alone, we’d get somewhere in this country without a lot of this relief and all that stuff.” They are cheerful and joking (with a sarcastic Herbert Hoover truism) despite their surroundings:
Godfrey Smith/Parke: (dryly) Mike, I wouldn’t worry. Prosperity’s just around the corner.
Mike (Pat Flaherty): Yeah. It’s been there a long time. I wish I knew which corner. Well Duke, I’m gonna turn in. Bon soir.
Godfrey Smith/Parke (William Powell), a hobo who lives in the city dump, is unshaven and scruffy and dressed in tattered clothes – an old hat and coat. On the road above the heaps of burning debris, two shiny vehicles arrive, and two rival, debutante sisters (wearing dark and silvery light-colored gleaming satin gowns respectively) hastily emerge: tall brunette Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) (accompanied by her well-dressed escort George (George Light)) and then blonde Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard). As Irene stands in the background of the trash heap, Cornelia approaches Smith/Parke and callously offers him five dollars to be her “forgotten man”:
Cornelia: How’d you like to make five dollars?…
Godfrey: Well, I don’t mean to seem inquisitive, but what would I have to do for it?
Cornelia: All you have to do is go to the Waldorf Ritz Hotel with me and I’ll show you to a few people and then I’ll send you right back….Oh, if you must know, it’s a game. You’ve probably heard about it – a scavenger hunt. If I find a forgotten man first, I win. Is that clear?
Godfrey: Yes, quite clear. Shall I wear my tails or come just as I am?
Proud, annoyed, sarcastically “flattered” by her “very generous offer,” and incensed for being treated so discourteously and offensively, he appears angry and momentarily frightens her – she backs into a rubbish pile of ashes. Recovering her poise, the snooty, rebuffed and humiliated lady huffs back up the hill with her ineffectual escort at her side, while Irene is intrigued and looks on with amusement. Smith/Parke almost bumps into the scatter-brained Irene – she has remained there, pleased to see her usually-victorious sister humiliated. Sitting down together, he speaks to the flaky socialite while silhouetted in shimmering profile by the light:
Godfrey: Who are you?
Irene: I’m Irene. That was my sister Cornelia you pushed in the ash pile.
Godfrey: How’d you like to have me push Cornelia’s sister into an ashpile?
Irene: Oh, I don’t think I’d like that.
Godfrey: Then you’d better get out of here.
Irene: You bet.
Godfrey: Wait a minute. Sit down.
Irene: I’m sitting.
Another bum: (ominously) What’s up Duke? Need some help?
Godfrey: No thanks boys. I’ve got everything under control. (To Irene) Are you a member of this hunting party?
Irene: I was, but I’m not now. Are they all forgotten men too?
Godfrey: Yes, I guess they are maybe. Why?
Irene: It’s the funniest thing. I couldn’t help but laugh. I’ve wanted to do that ever since I was six years old…Cornelia thought she was going to win, and you pushed her in a pile of ashes. Ha! Ha! Ha!
Godfrey: Do you think you could follow an intelligent conversation for just a moment?
Irene: I’ll try.
Godfrey: That’s fine. Do you mind telling me just what a scavenger hunt is?
Irene: (in a breathless tempo, she makes an innocently-cruel statement) Well, a scavenger hunt is exactly like a treasure hunt, except in a treasure hunt you try to find something you want and in a scavenger hunt, you try to find something that nobody wants.
Godfrey: Hmmm, like a forgotten man?
Irene: That’s right, and the one that wins gets a prize. Only there really isn’t a prize. It’s just the honor of winning, because all the money goes to charity, that is, if there’s any money left over, but then there never is.
Revealing her sensitivity and obtuseness (about the Depression) simultaneously, the dingbat Irene childishly states: “You know I’ve decided I don’t want to play any more games with human beings as objects. It’s kind of sordid when you think of it, I mean, when you think it over.” She also foolishly asks about his dwelling-place:
Irene: Could you tell me why you live in a place like this when there are so many other nice places?
Godfrey: You really want to know?
Irene: Well, I’m very curious.
Godfrey: It was because my real estate agent felt that the altitude would be very good for my asthma.
Irene: My uncle has asthma.
Godfrey: No! Well, now there’s a coincidence.
On a quick impulse, Godfrey agrees to accompany her – as a “forgotten man” so that she can “win the game” over her domineering older sister: “You’d win if you got back first with me.” He agrees to appear at the party as her “forgotten man” and abruptly states: “Let’s beat Cornelia.” And he expresses his curiosity about the gala event: “I’d really like to see just what a scavenger hunt looks like.”
It is a scene of mad pandemonium in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel as dozens of celebrants rush about in elegant clothing (tuxs and gowns) as they carry in articles from the hunt. Irene’s frog-voiced, impatient, rotund and harrassed father Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), the sole representative voice of sanity, drinks at the bar with another man as they observe the insanity around them:
Blake (Selmer Jackson): This place slightly resembles an insane asylum.
Bullock: Well, all you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people.
His line leads directly to the introduction of his scatterbrained wife of twenty years, a “dizzy old gal” named Angelica Bullock (Alice Brady), accompanied by her mooching artist/protégé Carlo (Mischa Auer) – she is dragging a goat behind her toward the podium where the harried, authoritarian scavenger coordinator (Franklin Pangborn) tallies up the scores amidst a chaotic melee of other competitors. Angelica is told that she is missing only two more items – a forgotten man and a bowl of Japanese goldfish. A blustery Alexander snarls that he is returning home without her: “If you want a forgotten man, you’ll find me home in bed.”
Into the scene of societal madness and confusion, Irene leads Godfrey by the hand, as he comments: “Are all these people hunters?…It sounds like a bankruptcy proceeding.” The master of ceremonies asks Godfrey to stand up on a platform to speak. After identifying his “permanent” address as “City Dump 32, East River, Sutton Place” and having his whiskers pulled to demonstrate their authenticity – to Irene’s victorious delight, Godfrey delivers a short speech that denounces the posh gathering:
My purpose in coming here tonight was two-fold: firstly, I wanted to aid this young lady. Secondly, I was curious to see how a bunch of empty-headed nitwits conducted themselves. My curiosity is satisfied. I assure you it’ll be a pleasure to go back to a society of really important people.
As he strides out of the hotel, Irene decides that she won’t let the goal of her hunt escape. She chases after him, apologizes, and gratefully offers him employment as the Bullock family butler – at their Fifth Avenue mansion:
I’d never brought you here if I thought they were going to humiliate you. I’m terribly grateful. This is the first time I’ve ever beaten Cornelia at anything and you helped me do it…You’ve done something for me. I wish I could do something for you…because you’ve done something for me, don’t you see?…Can you butler?
He assures Irene’s mother of his trustworthiness, even though he hasn’t references or credentials: “People who take in stray cats say they make the best pets, Madame.” Irene gloats when Cornelia appears, already beaten, with another “forgotten man.” She disdainfully approves of Irene’s offer of a job to her bum: “He might make a very good butler…I hope, Godfrey, that you’re very good at shining shoes.” Godfrey is given money to buy appropriate butlering attire (“a trick suit”) and soon moves in with the family.
On his first morning, the sardonic, wise-cracking, all-wise “seasoned” maid Molly (Jean Dixon), gives him a run-down on the family and warns him that he is the just the latest butler (in a long line of butlers) that has worked for the zany household:
Molly: There’s one every day at this hour. They’re dropping in and out all the time.
Godfrey: Why is that?
Molly: Some get fired, some quit.
Godfrey: Is the family that exacting?
Molly: No, they’re that nutty.
As Godfrey authoritatively goes about his rounds throughout the film, the quirks of the mindless and artificial Bullock family members are repeatedly displayed. The “battle-axe,” hung-over, half-awakened, babbling Angelica is dazed. She has forgotten who he is, and is gently reminded:
Godfrey: I’m the forgotten man.
Angelica: So many people have such bad memories.
Godfrey: That’s so true.
Mrs. Bullock sees “pixies”: “I don’t like them, but I don’t like to see them stepped on.” To combat them, he gives her a tall glass of tomato juice (“pixie-remover”) spiked with Worchestershire sauce (“a counter-irritant”), and eliminates their true cause – a breeze blowing across glass wind chimes.
Behind the second door, “lioness” Cornelia (“a sweet-tempered little number”) rejects delivery of breakfast in bed. In the third bedroom, an “insidious” and deranged Irene, with a collared negligee, greets him with the breakfast as “the cutest thing I’ve ever seen” and encourages him to sit on the edge of her bed – telling him how “terribly thrilling” it is to have sponsored him as her “first protégé,” an arrangement similar to the way “pianist” Carlo is her Mother’s protégé:
Irene: You’re more than a butler. You’re the first protégé I ever had.
Irene: You know, like Carlo.
Godfrey: Who is Carlo?
Irene: He’s Mother’s protégé.
She brainlessly tells him: “You don’t know how nice it is having some intelligent person to talk to.” As he leaves, she remembers: “You’re my responsibility” and tosses a go-away line at him: “See you in church.”
The long-suffering, put-upon father of the family, Mr. Bullock accepts another subpoena from a process-server (Eddie Featherston) for his daughters’ costly, late-night antics: “Life in this family is one subpoena after another.” From Godfrey’s perspective, butlering for the “entertaining” Bullocks is “more desirable than living in a packing case on a city dump.” However, the bitchy, ice-cold Cornelia demands that he clean her shoe with his handkerchief, and then pledges to make his butlering-life miserable: “When I get through with you, you’ll go back to your packing case on the city dump and relish it. People don’t make a practice of pushing Cornelia Bullock into ashpiles. I’ll make your life so mis-…” Already infatuated with Godfrey, Irene is protective of him although her bitter rival-sister exposes and mocks her romantic intentions in their non-stop sibling rivalry:
So Little Red Riding Hood didn’t have enough feminine charms to trap a wolf her own age, so she falls in love with the butler and lives happily ever after on an ashpile – if you know what I mean.
The whole family of feather-brained socialites has gathered in the drawing room where Angelica has a treasured, ribboned-pet dog in her arms. The grumpy father Alexander feels buffeted by the members of his frivolous family, the do-nothing and pretentious Carlo, and the government and complains about the financial ruin brought upon him, as scrounger Carlo moans:
“Oh, Money, money, money! The Frankenstein Monster that destroys souls.”
As Carlo goes to the window with arms extended and his back to the room, Alexander pronounces a cure for their profligate spending and craziness: “There’s one thing I do know. What this family needs is discipline. I’ve been a pretty patient man, but when people start riding horses up the front steps and parking them in the library, that’s going a little bit too far…This family’s got to settle down!”
During the outrage as Godfrey dutifully serves hors d’oeuvres on a tray, Cornelia insults her sister for picking up “strays”: “How about this business of certain people picking up anybody they find on the city dump and dragging them into the house? For all we know, we might be stabbed in the back and robbed.” Carlo forgets his misery over pecuniary matters when reminded by Angelica to “get some nice hors d’oeuvres.” Upset by her sister, Irene’s face crumples into blubbery tears with fears of losing Godfrey: “If Mother can sponsor Carlo, why can’t I sponsor Godfrey?” With another inane line of dialogue, Angelica affirms her daughter’s affection with Godfrey: “He’s the first thing she’s shown any affection for since her Pomeranian died last summer.”
Irene collapses on the living-room couch, consumed by tears and self-pity. Subsequently, Cornelia accuses her of putting on a show: “She’s not having a spell. That’s old stuff.” To cheer up and “amuse” Irene, Carlo reluctantly does a gorilla imitation [a role that he has routinely performed for the family] – hunched over, ambling and loping around the living room, and jumping up and over the furniture and onto the window frame. Irene reacts with phony fear at his ape mimickry: “He frightens me,” while Mrs. Bullock attempts to calm her: “You mustn’t be frightened. He isn’t a real gorilla. He’s just playing.” Alexander is flummoxed by Carlo’s absurd pantomime: “Why don’t you stop imitating a gorilla and imitate a man?…Someday I’m going gorilla-hunting and I won’t miss.” At the end of Irene’s moping bout as she lies on the couch, she reaches up, takes Godfrey’s hand as he bends over her, and whispers a confession that she isn’t really having a spell – and then plants a kiss on his mouth! Embarrassed, he clicks his heels and retreats in shock.
In the next scene, Carlo accompanies himself on the piano while practicing and singing Otchi tchornia for Angelica. Godfrey brings a flower delivery of roses for a disconsolate Irene, who is hosting an afternoon tea party and assuming tragic poses throughout the room: “What difference does it make where one puts flowers when one’s heart is breaking?…Life is but an empty bubble….Why should anyone be cheerful?…What difference does it make? Some people do just as they like with other people’s lives and it doesn’t seem to make any difference.” Cornelia comments on her sister’s gestures as she stands dramatically next to open French doors and a tall pedestal in the room: “Oh, I remember that pose so well. I learned it in dramatic school. It’s Number Eight, isn’t it?…Am I spoiling your act, dear?”
During the party, Cornelia further pesters her spoiled, love-sick, heartbroken sister: “The servant problem’s been bothering her lately.” As Godfrey serves hors d’oeuvres to one of the guests of the family, Tommy Gray (Alan Mowbray) recognizes him as a wealthy, heir-to-a-fortune classmate from his past: “Godfrey Parke, you old mug…We went to Harvard together.” When Gray threatens to expose his background to the Bullocks, Godfrey hushes him. Gray pretends that he hired Godfrey as his valet at school – until he can learn the full story at lunch the next day. Cornelia is amazed by the revelation: “Imagine a butler with a college education!” When Gray announces as part of the fabrication that Godfrey was married to an Indian wife and had five children, Irene spitefully retaliates and announces her engagement to a fatuous old flame Charlie Van Rumple (Grady Sutton). But Irene soon breaks down in tears and flees to the stairs after being politely congratulated by Godfrey. As he passes by the stairs later, she watches him through the columned-railing of the stairs – chewing on a black handkerchief, pulling it through her teeth, and then wiping her nose with it.
Over breakfast the next day, the gentlemanly and courtly Godfrey expresses his pride in his work to Alexander: “I’m proud of being a good butler, sir. And I may add, sir, a butler must be good to hold his job here.” Alexander quizzically asks: “Say, who are you?” Over lunch at a restaurant, Tommy Gray is anxious to know the “dirt” about his former Harvard pal – of the prestigious “Parkes of Boston”:
Don’t avoid the issue. I’ve been sitting here like a snoopy old maid with her ears flapping in the breeze waiting to hear the dirt…Well, when I wandered into a Fifth Avenue asylum and see one of the Parkes of Boston serving hors d’oeuvres, I think I’m entitled to a palpable curiosity…But I still want to know why you’re butlering when your family’s telling everybody that you’re in South America doing something about rubber or sheep or something…I’d like to see their faces when they find out that you’re a butler.
Godfrey explains that a broken, unhappy love affair (presumed) in Boston had made him depressed and “pretty bitter” and cascaded him down to a lower station in life. On the brink of despair and suicide, he almost killed himself:
…gave her everything I had and just disappeared. You know, the Parkes were never educated to face life. We’d been puppets for ten generations…Boy, did I feel sorry for myself. I wandered down to the East River one night thinking I’d just slide in and get it over with. But I met some fellas living there on a city dump. Here were people who were fighting it out and not complaining. I never got as far as the river.
His suicidal impulses were broken by the optimistic, dauntless attitudes of down-and-out men living at the dump, and his spirit was rekindled. In jest, Gray suggests that Godfrey see a “brain specialist” to be examined. Eavesdropping on him in the same restaurant, the sleek and predatory Cornelia suspiciously questions his “chummy” attitude toward Gray, and mentions that she heard his name might be Parke instead of Smith. She makes a play toward him: “Are we going to be friends?…You really like me and are afraid to admit it, aren’t you?” He deftly deflects her advances by attacking her with a “portrait” of her bratty character:
You belong to that unfortunate category that I would call the Park Avenue brat. A spoiled child who has grown up in ease and luxury and who has always had her own way and whose misdirected energies are so childish that they hardly deserve the comment even of a butler on the off-Thursday.
Disdainful, she leaves – determined to end his employment: “I’ll see you down at the ashpile.”
In the kitchen of the Bullock mansion, as Molly sews buttons on Godfrey’s pants, Irene strokes the pants-leg while they both reveal their unrequited love of him and deteriorate into each other’s arms in wallowing tears:
Irene: It’s his, isn’t it? Do you always sew his buttons on?
Irene: Oh, I’d like to sew his buttons on sometime when they come off. I wouldn’t mind at all.
Molly: He doesn’t lose very many.
Irene: Oh, he’s very tidy.
Molly: Yes, he’s very tidy.
Irene: What does he do on his day off?
Molly: He never tells me.
Irene: (in tears) Oh, he’s probably sitting somewhere with some woman on his lap. He’s the meanest man I know.
Molly: I think he’s very mean.
Irene: I suppose he’s sitting somewhere with somebody in his lap who doesn’t care for him at all. As far as I know, maybe his children are calling him. Calling him – oh, I can’t bear it.
Molly: Please don’t. (She stands and walks away)
Irene: You too? Oh Molly, I know exactly how you feel. (They hug and tearfully commiserate with each other)
Returning home from the restaurant on his day off, Godfrey enters the kitchen – resembling a drunken version of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character from Modern Times (1936).
In the living room, Carlo reads from Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters to Mrs. Bullock, who denies the fact of Irene’s tears by exclaiming that she was eating onions in the kitchen: “You know, sometimes I wonder if my children are all there.” In her planned conspiracy against Godfrey, Cornelia accuses him of not obeying orders, such as forgetting to send her gray satin evening dress to the cleaners. After reading a newspaper story about a man drowning his wife in the bathtub, Angelica expresses her affectionate love toward her pet dog: “If anyone ever drowned my ‘booful’ in the bathtub, his mama would be very, very cross, yes she would.” Tipsy from his afternoon cocktails with Gray, Godfrey mistakes Angelica for Cornelia and compliments her by flattering her vanity: “I hope you’ll forgive me, madam, but you seem to be looking younger every day, if I may say so.”
While Godfrey is away from his quarters, Cornelia sneaks into his room, opens up a dresser drawer (and conspicuously leaves it open!), and plants her expensive pearl necklace under his mattress (without completely straightening the cover on the bed) – a frame-up so that he will be caught for theft and punished for not accepting her advances. During dinner that evening, Cornelia announces that her sister Irene refuses to eat (“Nobody cares if I starve myself to death…I don’t mind dying if other people don’t”) because she is “in love.” Alexander mocks ravenous Carlo’s “genius” musician skills as a pianist: “He ought to be strong enough soon to give that concert…He could give a bang-up concert right now with a knife and fork.”
As part of the set-up of the butler, Cornelia dramatically announces that her expensive pearls are missing from her dressing table – and she has already called the police. The detectives (Edward Gargan and James Flavin), believing it’s “an inside job,” are led straight to Godfrey’s room by Cornelia. Protective of the befuddled butler, Irene becomes hysterical: “Godfrey, you’ve got to hide them. Here come the cops!” Cornelia suggests the obvious place: “Look under the mattress!” but when the pearls aren’t found there, she exclaims: “They must be there!” and obviously incriminates herself. Realizing the frame-up that his outrageous daughter has orchestrated, Mr. Bullock apologizes to Godfrey and then to the police as he escorts them out and the incident is forgotten: “I’m terribly sorry, boys. I want to apologize for my family. They’re all slightly hysterical.” He scolds Cornelia for her duplicity: “If you don’t find your necklace, the joke’s on you because it’s not insured.” Irene laughs at her smug, disgraced sister.
On a tour of the city dump, Tommy Gray and Godfrey walk into the shanty town: “The village of forgotten men.” The aromatic stench is from “That’s Old Man River – you get used to it after a while.” Godfrey points out the ramshackle structure that was “the birthplace of a celebrated butler, Godfrey Smith….[The ashes of Godfrey Park are] scattered to the wind.” According to some of his old pals, the shacks are being moved because “the dump trucks are crowdin’ in on us a little. We ought to be in the river by early spring.” Godfrey heralds the values of the unemployed dump people who are more virtuous than the ‘upper-crust’ socialites:
Godfrey: That little fellow with the bundle of wood under his arm was Balinger of the Second National. When his bank failed, he gave up everything he had so that his depositors wouldn’t suffer…You see, Tommy, there are two kinds of people. Those who fight the idea of being pushed into the river and the other kind.
Tommy: Well, after all, things have always been this way for some people. These men are not your responsibility.
Godfrey: There are different ways of having fun.
Tommy: You have a peculiar sense of humor.
Godfrey: Over here, we have some very fashionable apartment houses. Over there is a very swanky nightclub. While down here, men starve for want of a job. How does that strike your sense of humor?
Tommy: What’s all this leading to?
Godfrey: Tommy, there’s a very peculiar mental process called thinking. You wouldn’t know much about that. But when I was living here, I did a lot of it. One thing I discovered was that the only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.
Off-screen, he describes his regenerative “plan” for the area.
To mark the passage of time, the pages of the Gotham Gossip are opened, and in a column on the first page titled Park Avenue Chatter, the tabloid describes the recent trip to “foreign shores” taken by “The Misses Bullock.” Muted trumpets on the soundtrack guffaw at the gossip:
The Misses Bullock have returned from a long sojourn in Europe where the younger daughter, Irene..(So it is rumored) was sent to forget her latest broken engagement. If Park Avenue knew the name of her real beloved, would everybody be leffing. Cupid strikes in strange places, or words to that effect..and heigh-ho..
After spending money for her sojourn, Angelica worries that her daughter “is worse off” than when she left. Cornelia mentions that her upset condition isn’t because of a “broken engagement” to Van Rumple but because “Godfrey didn’t fall down in a faint when we got in today…He didn’t make enough fuss over her homecoming to suit her.” Irene consoles herself thinking: “He missed me more than he did you. I could tell by the light in his eyes…He’s really in love with me. He’s just hard to break down, that’s all.” And she feels slightly jealous over Cornelia’s “unfinished business” and interest in her heart-throb: “Don’t you try anything…you’d better leave it unfinished unless you want to be wearing a lamp for a hat!”
In a dish-washing scene with Godfrey at the kitchen sink, Irene appears behind him and swoons toward him: “Did you mean it when you said you missed me?…I mean, did you miss Cornelia and me or just me?” Hungry for affection, Irene – with her typically-daffy stream of consciousness, compliments him: “You look so cute in your apron.” After volunteering to help him “wipe” the dishes – a talent she has not cultivated as a rich girl, she tells him her single-minded devotion to him during her European trip: “Every place I went, everybody was Godfrey…when I get in a cab, the driver is Godfrey and I’d say, this is his chariot and he’s taking me up to his clouds to his castle on the mountains.” In return, Godfrey summarizes the thoughts he’s had during her absence, as she erratically brushes water off the plates:
Godfrey: ...I’ve been doing some things also. I’ve been trying to do things that I thought would make you proud of me….You helped me to find myself and I’m very grateful.
Irene: You’d make a wonderful husband.
Godfrey: Oh, I’m afraid not. You see, I know how you feel about things…Well, you’re grateful to me because I helped you to beat Cornelia and I’m grateful to you because you helped me to beat life, but that doesn’t mean that we have to fall in love.
Irene: If you don’t want to, but I’d make a wonderful wife.
Godfrey: Not for me, I’m afraid. You see, I like you very much. I had a very bitter experience. But I won’t bore you with that…You and I are friends and I feel a certain responsibility to you. And that’s why I wanted to tell you first.
Irene (expectantly): Tell me what?
Godfrey: Well, I thought it was about time that I was moving on.
She turns her back to him, crying and struggling to accept his decision to leave the household: “I won’t cry, I promise.” He consoles her dashed hopes in their love: “After all, I’m your protégé. You want me to improve myself, don’t you?..You don’t want me to go on just being a butler all my life, do you?”
In the living room, Cornelia speaks to Godfrey about “the Mystery of My Lady’s Necklace or What Happened to the Pearls?” and his “upper-crust” roots from the distinguished Parke family in Boston – she threatens to divulge his posturing as a butler: “It would be an awful shame to see them made the laughing-stock of Boston, wouldn’t it?” Within purposeful earshot of Irene, she offers to take a “long taxi ride out Van Courtland way. Perhaps we could exchange secrets…I’ll be waiting around the corner…It’s impossible to exchange intimate secrets here. The traffic’s almost as heavy as it is at the Grand Central Station. Don’t forget darling, fifteen minutes.” Thinking that Godfrey has assented to Cornelia’s wiles, Irene begs him: “You can’t go with Cornelia…She always gets everybody to do just as she likes.” To get his attention, she stages a fainting spell and collapses into his arms.
In one of the film’s most well-known sequences, Godfrey hauls the lovesick girl up on his shoulder, bemoaning the insane, anarchic Bullocks: “Oh, this is the craziest family.” He carries the limp rag-doll upstairs into her bedroom, dumps her on a bed, and searches for her pulse: “Stop this nonsense, you hear. If you’re faking one of your spells to keep me from meeting Cornelia, you’re on the wrong track, you hear?” While searching for smelling salts, he realizes that she’s faking when she partially sits up (in the mirror’s reflection) and then falls faint again. After discovering her ruse (“Godfrey knows how to take care of little Irene, yes indeed”), he deposits her on a stool in the shower and turns on the cold shower, predicting: “In just a minute, you’ll forget that you had any troubles. I thought so. Let that be a lesson to you.” Soaking wet in her evening gown, Irene skips toward him with hands outstretched, embracing him and exclaiming: “Oh Godfrey, now I know you love me…You do or you wouldn’t have lost your temper.” Like a mad woman, she bounds toward the door where her mother has appeared, and then skips around the room and jumps up and down on her bed, ecstatic and jubilant: “Oh Mother! Godfrey loves me! He put me in the shower.”
It is the perfect opportunity for Godfrey to announce his resignation to a fluttery Angelica. She tells her husband about the butler’s confrontation with Irene: “The only thing to do is to send him back where he came from. He never should have come here in the first place. Now imagine falling in love with a butler.” Alexander wants to speak about “sordid money matters” with the family – but first has a “little chat” with Carlo. The freeloader is thrown out of the house and told “goodbye” (off-screen amidst the sounds of crashing glass): “He left very hurriedly through the side window.”
In a stern lecture, Mr. Bullock announces “point-blank” to his family that the Bullock Enterprises are in dire financial straits:
We’re about broke…We’ve got this house, a few odds and ends, and that’s about all. Not only that, I’ve lost all of my stock in the Bullock Enterprises. And I borrowed some of the stockholder’s money trying to recoup my losses. I don’t know where I’m gonna end up. Maybe in jail…But if I do end up in jail, it’ll be the first peace I’ve had in twenty years. And I don’t want any of ya to chortle about Godfrey. Because you may all end up on the City Dump before we’re through.
In a gentlemanly manner, Godfrey steps forward to alleviate Alexander’s financial distress, assuring them that he has been slyly saving the company: “I’ve known for a long time that the Bullock interests were in rather a bad way…So I took the liberty of dabbling in the market on my own account. Here sir…That’s most of your stock. I knew it was being dumped on the markets so I sold short…” He explains that he bought the devalued stock in the Bullocks’ interest (“The stock has been endorsed over to you”) with money from Cornelia’s pawned necklace, and had enough left over, after rising profits, for a financial venture of his own. With a short speech, Godfrey expresses his gratitude to all of them:
There comes a turning point in every man’s life, a time when he needs help. It happened to me also. Now this family helped me. I hope I repaid my debt. And I may add, some of the money went into a project of my own. I hope you won’t mind sir…You see, with the aid of Tommy Gray, I was able to transmute a certain trinket into gold, then into stock, and then into pearls again.
He returns the necklace that he used as collateral to a transformed Cornelia, who humbly admits her crime and her cold viciousness: “If anyone’s indebted, we are, after the way some of us have treated you.” Before bidding them goodbye, Godfrey recounts the lessons he learned from family members – and teaches a few lessons of his own. His example serves as a catalyst to stir up their privileged lives:
I’ve been repaid in many ways. I learned patience from Mr. Bullock. I found Mrs. Bullock at all times, shall we say, amusing….(To Cornelia) You taught me the fallacy of false pride. You taught me humility….Miss Cornelia, there have been other spoiled children in the world. I happen to be one of them myself. You’re a high-spirited girl. I can only hope that you use those high spirits in a more constructive way. And so, good-day.
At the door as he exits, he kisses a subdued, saddened Molly on the cheek, telling her that she’s sweet. When Irene learns from her dumb-struck family that Godfrey has gone, she vows: “He’s not going to get away from me.” The scene dissolves into a view of the site of the shantytowns and City Dump under the bridge, now transformed into a luxurious and fashionable nightclub, aptly named “The Dump.” On the front curb, Mike, one of the former “forgotten man” hobos, is dressed in a white uniform as the club’s valet who helps unload cars. In the inner office of the club, Godfrey and business partner Tommy Gray, two benign populist-capitalists, make plans for “steam-heated” apartments (“compartments”): “Forgotten men with steam. Sounds like something that ought to be on the menu….we’re giving food and shelter to fifty people in the winter, and giving them employment in the summer.” Godfrey decides to sell out his interest in the business for five thousand dollars to build a dock to bring in “the yachting trade.”
Pursuing Godfrey into The Dump, Irene greets by name the Mayor (Reginald Mason) who is hosting the many guests at the party. Tommy leaves the office with the final words: “Business is fine. I’m stuck. You’re nuts, and I’m going back to Boston before I disgrace my family.” Irene bowls her way into the office, mentioning to Godfrey: “It’s much nicer than when I was here before…Are the forgotten men having a party?…I saw the Mayor out there, is he one of them too?” She blithely but aggressively announces her intention to remain with him:
Irene: You’re my responsibility and someone has to take care of you.
Godfrey: I can take care of myself.
Irene: You can’t look me in the eye and say that. You love me and you know it. You know, there’s no sense in struggling against a thing when it’s got you. It’s got you and that’s all there is to it. It’s got you!
To his surprise, baskets of wood and groceries of food are delivered:
Irene: It should last us for a week, anyway.
Godfrey: It’s a wonder you didn’t have the foresight to bring a minister and a license.
Irene: It’s funny. I never thought of that.
But Tommy Gray has prepared them for the inevitable by summoning the Mayor to perform a civil marriage ceremony for them – without a license: “It may get me into a lot of trouble, but, uh, I guess I’ve known your family long enough to take a chance.” The demanding Irene assures the befuddled Mayor that her hasty marriage to Godfrey is common knowledge to her family: “Everybody knows about it except Godfrey.” After Irene places everyone in the correct positions, including a witness, she pulls Godfrey to his feet as the Mayor has them join right hands. She smiles and giggles half-wittedly at her subdued bridegroom – finally triumphant that she has trapped him. Irene suggests that their wedding is a dream:
Stand still, Godfrey, it’ll all be over in a minute.
The whole film here:
Source: My Man Godfrey (1936)