The 1936 Oscar-nominated comedy classic My Man Godfrey makes its long-awaited debut on Blu-ray. Starring William Powell, Carole Lombard, Eugene Pallette, and directed by Gregory La Cava, the jokes fly side by side with a healthy dose of social satire in an earnest deconstruction of social class structures. It's a winning, heartfelt comedy with terrific performances and shouldn't be missed. The Criterion Collection brings the film to Blu-ray with a stellar A/V presentation and a great collection of bonus features. Fans of the classics should consider this one Highly Recommended.
"The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job."
Upper crust socialite sisters Irene (Carole Lombard) and Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) are in a scavenger hunt. The only thing they need to win is a "Forgotten Man," so what better place to look than the New York City dump? There they find Godfrey (William Powell). After Cornelia fails and embarrasses herself in the process of securing Godfrey, he decides to go along with Irene to help her win the challenge if only to get the opportunity to tell these rich windbags what he really thinks of them. But what started as a game turns into something more when Godfrey goes to work for the Bullocks. As Cornelia is hellbent on proving Godfrey a thief, Irene falls for the man who has a few secrets he'd rather keep to himself.
Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor William Powell, Best Actress Carole Lombard, Supporting Actor Mischa Auer, and Actress Alice Brady, My Man Godfrey somehow failed to win a single award. I mention this slight only because each of the cast members fully deserved it. This is a true ensemble film at its very best where each of the players makes the man or woman next to them better. William Powell's Godfrey wouldn't be such a great character without Carole Lombard's Irene and vice versa. As a comedy, the cast feeds off each other's gags without the lines feeling forced or goofy while as a drama, the cast finds the emotional core to their characters without anyone actually ever looking like a true mustache-twisting bad guy.
My wife introduced me to the film years ago when we first started dating and I'm glad she did. It's a favorite of mine as the comedy is ripe with some great zingers but the film itself also has a lot of heart. From The Thin Man to The Great Ziegfield, Powell had an adept ability to communicate any sort of emotion with his eyes without it ever looked forced or slapstick. Equally impressive in this venture is Carole Lombard. The pair has an undeniable chemistry together (they'd divorced just three years prior to filming but remained close friends) and they bring their best efforts to their respective characters without making the obvious romantic inklings feel too forced or cliched.
Director Gregory La Cava keeps his actors' personal and within the script without strangling their natural abilities. He knew when to let the zingers fly and keep the audience laughing and he knew precisely when to pull back and hit them with the feels. The film is well balanced without being too madcap or saccharine. While Powell and Lombard are the stars of the show, the great supporting cast gets plenty of screen time to shine and show their own range as dramatic and comedic foils.
It had been a few years since I last sat down and have My Man Godfrey a thorough viewing. While absolutely being a favorite, it's not one I pull out on an annual basis. It's the sort of warm-hearted film that you don't want to watch too many times too often. It's great for special occasions viewing when you really just want to sit down with the lights out and enjoy something nice for your evening's entertainment.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Criterion Collection upgrades My Man Godfrey to Blu-ray in a single-disc set. The Film is pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc and housed in a standard clear hard case with spine number 114. The disc loads to an animated main menu featuring Criterion's standard navigation setup. Also included is a booklet containing a terrific essay by Farran Smith Nehme
With a fresh new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, My Man Godfrey enjoys a beautiful near-flawless 1.33:1 1080p transfer. It had been a while since I pulled out my old Criterion DVD release and my memory of that transfer was always favorable, but I was very surprised to see the number of improvements in side-by-side comparisons. Fine details, stable blacks, grain structure, grayscale, everything shows all the hallmarks of a quality fresh restoration effort. Blacks, whites, and shadows offer the most notable screen improvements as the image enjoys a much-improved sense of depth. Details are robust allowing you to see the full effects of Godfrey's shabby clothing as well as the Bullock's lavish lifestyle. Instances of speckling or dirt have been taken care of without impacting or altering the natural grain structure of the film. There are a couple of small speckles here and there, but nothing compared to the old disc making this truly a winning restoration effort.
Just as impressive as the video transfer, My Man Godfrey enjoys a fully restored English LPCM 1.0 mono track. The dialogue crackles with a nicely lifelike vibrancy. The restoration work has mitigated hiss to a non-issue and has also taken care of issues of pops, snaps, and other distracting age-related issues that were persistent on the old DVD. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. The sound also gains an extra sense of space and dimension. Even as most scenes are simple small room or location setups, the big party scene in the beginning, for example, features a lot of great spacial effects with sound effects and voices crowding around while still maintaining distinct placement. Levels are spot on. All around this is a crisp and clear audio mix that works beautifully for this movie.
Keeping in true Criterion Collection form, My Man Godfrey comes packed with a number of great bonus features. The Lux Radio Theatre adaptation is a lot of fun and proves to be a good listen while some of the supplementary retrospective features offer a nice look at the film and its place in the careers of the major players.
My Man Godfrey is a true classic Hollywood comedy. The film features an incredible cast with William Powell and Carol Lombard headlining the show under the astute direction of Gregory La Cava. It's a nice show with a lot of heart featuring great performances and some great laughs. The Criterion Collection brings My Man Godfrey to Blu-ray in splendid order offering a massive upgrade over its previous DVD release. With a first-rate video restoration, a terrific audio track, and a great bunch of extra features, it doesn't get much better than this for fans of the classics. Even if you don't need him for a scavenger hunt My Man Godfrey is Highly Recommended.