Godfrey (William Powell) is living in a literal dump with a surprisingly friendly group of other homeless men during the Great Depression. One night, a group of spoiled brat socialites show up, looking for one of the homeless men to play the part of a "forgotten man" for their spoiled socialite scavenger hunt.
|One is scruffy, the other vacant. Guess which is which.|
|And to think, fifty years later, a black man was allowed to be a butler on TV|
The title really sums up the whole movie. This movie rides on the character of Godfrey; it's a good thing he's supposed to be witty and charming, because that's William Powell's calling card. Powell is very entertaining in this movie, delivering sharp comments throughout, but never seeming to tell the similar jokes the same way twice. He was aided in his performance by a supporting cast that perfected the clueless (but generally nice) rich characters that were so common in films until the 1950s. Carole Lombard (Powell's ex-wife!) gave a solid performance as the sweet but oh-so-dumb Irene. I usually have a problem with overly ditzy roles, but Lombard turned that stupidity into a childishness that was more easily forgiven.
Gail Patrick was fine as the bitchy spoiled brat sister. Alice Brady was surprisingly funny on occasion as the too-stupid-to-believe mother; while I don't have any proof of it, I am pretty sure that her line "She was white as a sheet" was sampled for the excellent song "Frontier Psychiatrist" by Avalanches. The men were less entertaining. Eugene Pallette played the idiot that was allowed to spoil his family and Mischa Auer played a very convincing freeloader. Auer was more entertaining than he should have been, given his minor role, but I enjoyed his melodrama.
Gregory La Cava's direction didn't strike me as anything special, but I suppose that my modern perspective could be a little jaded. He did manage to put up some gorgeous sets and all the actors were committed to their parts, with no one giving a poor performance. I may not have liked all the performances, but they were all polished and as good as the script would allow them to be. The ending is awfully abrupt, but the old school take on comedies made that a common occurrence. This wasn't anything timeless, from a directorial standpoint, but it was a solid effort.
In an older and lauded film like this, the main question is how well it has aged. For the most part, I would say "not too badly." There are several lines of dialogue that underline just how long ago 1936 was (apparently, the terms "nitwit" and "scavenger hunt" were not part of the popular lexicon back then), but the movie is still able to retain its charm. Charm it has, but the humor is a bit lacking. It's just not very funny any more, because the social mores that were being pushed at the time are long gone now.
|Get it? He's uncomfortable!|
And here's the song I alluded to earlier. Great song from a great album: Avalanches - Since I Left You.