My Man Godfrey is on of the most perfect and deciptively light hearted romatic comedies of all time. This apparently screwball confection is about the class system, poverty, the dignity of humanity and a true soul match between two people who complete each other. However, you can turn your brain off to those deeper themes and enjoy one of the most wittily written, superbly cast and beautifully shot pieces of black and white artistry from Hollywood's golden era.
It's about a homeless man being instantly enlisted on a whim and made into the butler for a dysfunctional rich family and rising to the occasion. Neither he nor the wacky family are what they first appear to be.
FIrst and foremost in this embarrasment of riches is the indelibly charismatic and intelligent peformances by Powell and Lombard - and their scintillating chemistry. Powell shows great depth with subtlety and perfect comic timing, and Lombard is beautiful, quirky, vulerable and you can't take your eyes off her. They play two interesting, well rounded and flawed people who we filmgoers want desperately to wind up together. Second is the rest of the crackerjack cast, every role cast to perfection. Then is the economical script and direction, where not a scene is longer or shorter than it needs to be, and is peformed with restrained honesty and precision.
The only reason I hold back the last half star to this film is that some aspects of the film have dated, particularly the rushed and pat happy ending, and the over stylized aspects of the production design. If you are someone who can't see through these details to enjoy old movies, I'm not sure this will win you over. However, the Criterion collection version is pristine and crisp, both for sound and picture.
This film could be made into a contemporary feature today, with the exacty same story, and has: Paul Mazursky's Down and Out in Beverly Hills, which is based on a French Jean Renoir film, but that film is more dark and sexual.
My Man Godfrey will grab most viewers from beginning to end and make you laugh and care about the characters. It's a gem.