Thursday, May 17, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—My Man Godfrey (1936) ***½

NR, 94 min.
Director: Gregory La Cava
Writers: Morrie Ryskind, Eric Hatch (also novel)
Starring: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, Jean Dixon, Alan Mowbray, Mischa Auer

William Powell is genuine cool. That’s the best way I can think of to describe him. I can’t think of any other actor who can match him in that same sense. He wasn’t cool because he looked like a Goerge Clooney. He was surprisingly not as handsome as other leading men from his same era. But, he was just cool. Nothing shook him, even when it did.

Take the set up of “My Man Godfrey” for example. We meet Powell’s character in a shantytown located underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Into this slum waltz a couple of affluent sisters playing a high society scavenger hunt, which asks its contestants to bring back a “forgotten man.” They hope Powell will be that man. Powell turns one sister down flatly. He doesn’t lose his temper, but his cool intimidates her. When he sees the first sister always wins and the other sister could use a win, he agrees to be her forgotten man.

Carole Lombard plays the second sister, who is pretty scatterbrained, but in a charming way. She’s as wonderful as Powell. She hires Powell on as her butler, and he is genuinely gracious that she has given him the opportunity in the hard times of the depression. It’s funny. I can’t think of a comedy today where the hero is intelligent and the heroine is not—or vice versa—where I want them to be together. But, these two just fit.

I think that comes down to Powell’s unequaled cool as well. He’s just so accepting of her and sees so clearly all the faults of those people around her, who might seem more desirable to those not as keen as him. There’s something about these classic black and white movies that make me sad about today’s movies. Today’s audiences are savvy, but they don’t know much about subtlety. Powell’s charisma is like nothing that exists in Hollywood today. It’s based on intelligence without succumbing to arrogance. “My man,” indeed.

Watch the movie below.

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