Tuesday, June 29, 2010


the director: gregory la cava

what is it: perhaps the depression era comedy.  a fast-talking bit of lunacy that ably dissects the befuddled brains of the fabulously wealthy.

a lil' bit of history: william powell, the stunning actor who portrays "godfrey" in the film, was no spring chicken (forty-five and getting older), thus when powell carries irene (carole lombard) up the stairs and in to her bedroom, a stunt double had to be used.

the expectation: i spoke on this yesterday, but the possibility of a 1930s comedy used to turn my snooze-factor up to high.  my man godfrey (114) had my tongue lolling from moment one.  i'm growin' up mama.

the experience: i've been so impressively busy over the course of the last four months, that movies, especially criterion ones are gems to be shoved in to the cracks of my schedule.  thus, sadly, annoyingly, my man godfrey (114) was watched in fragments before sleep, upon waking, on off-afternoons.  

1. not your staid 1930s pic

there's a feeling amongst the public these days that if something's old, especially if an item of historical remembrance harkens back to the early parts of the century, that it might be, ahem, boring.  i, occasionally dunder-headed, have in the past subscribed to these theory as well.  but let me tell you, as soon as godfrey (william powell) pushes the sharp-faced cornelia (gail patrick) in to the ash pile and confirms that yes he'll be a part of the bullock family's lunatic experience, this film is as entertaining as anything in theaters right now.  this isn't just run-of-the-mill comedy either, there is a sense of silliness and surrealism that tints the edges of the film.  the shit show that is the rich person scavenger hunt at the beginning had my eyes wide, my mouth agape.  the cast of characters the inhabit the bullock's household aren't just your tired, stuffy rich folk, oh no, these are beautifully crafted bits of insanity that make you giggle and cringe at the same time.  yes, yes, the film doesn't feature sweaty megan fox fighting a robot vacuum cleaner or jennifer lopez getting impregnated by a machine. instead it features silliness and stunning acting and a sure-footed cameraman.  and in the end, it's all you really need.

2.  william powell

i've feel as if i've shorted myself in life by not knowing more about william powell before this film.  his is a name that any good cinephile knows and, truthfully or not, reveres. in my case, he's a series of blocky letters on the blindingly lit marquee of my mind.  a name with no face as so many of the brilliant contracted actors of the studio era have become.  thus, when this film opens and a dirty faced powell lambasts one half of the bullock family as articulately as any one on screen possibly ever has, i nearly lost it.  powell is the sort of well-polished screen gem hollywood of the 1930s adored.  a mannered actor with a sharp, speedy, delivery and the sort of upper class good looks a country in the midst of the great depression strove for.  his godfrey is a sharp-tongued charmer done with the world of wealth and women, a hard-working mystery setting out in the world to learn a few life lessons.  i can imagine that william powell, star of the the thin man films (all fourteen of them), was much like godfrey in real life, a sort of well-spoken cynic, who didn't take shit from anyone, regardless of their class or stature. 

i've got powell on the brain, i feel a bio coming on.

3.  eugene pallette

dig in to enough depression era comedies and you're going to stumble upon the enigma that is eugene pallete (the actor who portrays alexander bullock in the film).  pallette's a short, stocky actor who speaks like a frog with lung cancer.  he's the perfect epitome of studio-era hollywood's love of a sideman, a character actor, an off-beat yahoo who adds just a spin of wackiness to a film.  even though palllete's bullock is a sort of straight man in the film, the hard-wrought center of the absolutely bonkers bullock clan, his voice, his stature, his sort of pug-nosed masculinity, puts him decidedly off to the side.  if william powell's godfrey is the character an unemployed joe on the street in the 1930s aspired to be, eugene pallette was the everyman (regardless of his onscreen characters wealth) they thought themselves to be.  

final thoughts:

one of the great comedies i've ever seen.  i wish i had more time and more space to fill your brains with the oddball lunacy and structural hilarity this film brings but i can't and i won't.  all i can say is that godfrey and clan is the sort of film our country used to hang its hat on.  a solid, dependable laugh riot that featured strong acting and even stronger writing.  a film that didn't challenge our sensibilities perhaps but entertained with out dropping its standard to anything offensively lowball.  william powell is a discovery i'll dig much deeper in to in the next few months, the sort of treasure found that makes me wish i could stop time and just dig in to his entire oeuvre.  


criterion counsel: ah c'mon, gimme a break! 

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