This film is a time capsule of sorts, a journey back to the first Depression. Set in New York, “My Man Godfrey” points up the disparity between the very rich and the very poor. The very rich are very nutty, and criminally irresponsible, but nobody holds it against them. They think nothing of winding up a madcap evening at the Waldorf Ritz by breaking shop windows on Fifth Avenue, or stealing a cabbie’s horse and riding it into the living room. Someone else will take care of the mess, pay the fines, and sweep the damages under the rug.
More to the point is the utter cluelessness of the rich, their willful ignorance of the true extent of the poverty that surrounds them. They may descend into a hobo encampment on a lark, to pick up an “item” for a scavenger hunt, but otherwise they can’t seem to wrap their little minds around the fact that a good number of Americans at this time are really struggling.
Enter Godfrey, a Boston brahmin disguised as a bum who becomes the butler to a rich family. He’s renounced his former life and you might say that the scales have fallen from his eyes. Confronting a former Harvard roommate, he tells it like it is:
“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.”
Oh, did I mention that this film is a comedy? A very sharp comedy, with marvelous dialogue (the way they made them in 1936) and superbly acted all-around. Here’s William Powell looking delightfully scruffy, and a ditsy Carole Lombard you can’t help but love.