on July 9, 2003
Unfortunately Criterion has (again) cornered the market on a classic film and no other DVD of reasonable quality exists. This DVD, overpriced as all Criterion entries are, is a disappointment. The restoration is not particularly good, with fuzzy resolution and distortion around the edges in many scenes. The sound quality, too, is well below par for a premium-priced DVD. Compare this disk with the superb DVDs of "Sunset Boulevard" (Paramount) and "All About Eve" (20th Century Fox). On both of these disks, the picture and sound restoration, as well as the bonus features, far surpass Criterion's "Godfrey" at a far, far lower price. Criterion is lazily riding the reputation they built years ago with laser disks when the competition was mainly VHS, and still charging laser disk prices for a product that is less than premium. They need to 1) improve quality and 2) reduce prices to realistic levels. If not, the best thing would be for them to overprice themselves out of business. They certainly are no longer the "criterion" against which all video should be evaluated.
The below-stairs people usually got ignored in old movies. But there's a very interesting twist in "My Man Godfrey," a fun screwball comedy about a rich little girl who adores her secretive homeless-turned-butler. The dialogue is snappy, the storyline is fun, but the relationship between the two leads is never quite convincing.
The list for a charity scavenger hunt includes "lost man." Scatterbrained Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) is about to lose to her nasty sister, until "lost man" Godfrey (William Powell) volunteers to help her. As a reward, Irene makes Godfrey the new butler for her moneyed Park Avenue family, who turns out to be kind of crazy -- a long-suffering dad, cruel sister, and a mom who sees gnomes.
And it soon becomes clear that Irene has a massive crush on Godfrey, but not only does he reject her, but he keeps his past a secret. And her spiteful sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) is planning to get back at Godfrey for humiliating her, by framing him for a theft...
Basically "My Man Godfrey" is just a cute little upper-crust storyline of the type that was popular in the 1930s, so people could ignore their Depression troubles for a few hours. And it succeeds at being a solid little comedy -- not quite screwball but occasionally verging on it.
For the first half, we're basically treated to the wacky antics of Irene's family (including a horse in the study), and Godfrey's mild disbelief at what a bunch of weirdos they are. And after that it gets more serious, with Cornelia's war on Godfrey, but the kooky comedy is kept up through witty dialogue and warped family encounters. ("Take a look at the dizzy old gal with the goat." "I've had to look at her for 20 years - that's MRS. Bullock!" "I'm terribly sorry!" "How do you think I feel?").
The only real problem is Godfrey and Irene. They make a cute couple, and ex-hubby-and-wife Powell and Lombard have some nice chemistry. Unfortunately the ending seems very contrived, since Godfrey never gives even the slightest indication that he even really likes Irene, let alone loves her. Not a word, not a gesture.
But taken apart, they do a brilliant job -- Lombard pouts, bubbles, cries and generally flakes around as the scatterbrained Irene, who doesn't recognize Godfrey after he shaves off "those nice whiskers." And Powell has his usual wry, brainy charm, but with a slightly sarcastic edge. Eugene Pallette and Alice Brady are also fun as Irene's longsuffering dad and flaky mom.
"My Man Godfrey" is a classic little comedy of flaky socialites and secretive butlers -- just on this side of screwball. Charming and quirky.
I think fans of this film already know the familiar story line, so I won't get into that here. The great news is it's being presented as part of Universal's 100th Anniversary lineup. As soon as I learned that Universal had finally issued this on DVD, I jumped on it! "Prosperity is just around the corner...."
This 5 out of 5 star screwball classic has only been available previously on budget labels (of varying quality), or as a very expensive Criterion release. It's terrific to see Universal releasing this as well as another classic Public Domain title, Charade. The print quality & extras are great, well done. Happy 100th!
on December 29, 2003
Gregory La Cava's 1936 masterpiece "My Man Godfrey" my well be the best comedy of the '30s. This screwball classic features a witty topnotch script, fast paced direction, fabulous art deco sets and wonderful performances from Carole Lombard and William Powell, as well as, supporting players, Gail Patrick, Mischa Auer, Eugene Pallette, Alan Mowbray and, the particularly dizzy, Alice Brady. This film has never looked better than it has on this Criterion edition. The picture is crisp and clear and way better than any public domain print. In fact, during a recent showing of a PD print on TCM I got out my laptop and ran the Criterion DVD simultaneously and wow, what a difference. The clarity and amount of detail is terrific. I wish the extras had been better and the commentary could have been from the actual stars and creators rather than a film historian but these are petty complaints. If you have been thinking of adding this classic to your collection then pay the extra money and get the best version out there.
on November 18, 2003
I admit I was a bit reluctant to spend the money for this version of the classic movie, being perfectly content (I thought) with the cheaper versions. But having once purchased it, I can assure you it is worth the extra dollars. The picture is crystal clear and the sound (always a problem on some of the other versions) is wonderfully restored. Powell and Lombard never looked or sounded better, even in 1936. The brief missing scene (mentioned in the other review) included here is a nice
addition, adding even more... tension between Godrey and Irene. Godrey is appalled that Irene would enter his private domain and Irene, as ever, is oblivious to all disapproval, having only eyes for Godrey. The radio play is an interesting extra, reuniting the two stars, plus Gail Russell is back as the conniving Cornelia. Also, a young David Niven is in the radio play, as Godfrey's friend Tommy Gray. The commentary is interesting, sometimes more for film students than fans, but still a good addition. Outtakes from any film made in the 1930's are rare, so these, although brief, are a bonus.
All in all, the digital transfer itself is worth the money, the rest of these extras are just gravy for the collector. I highly recommend this disc, for those who cherish the immortal screwball comedy films and the discerning fans of William Powell and Carole Lombard.
on April 22, 2003
Considering how truly awful this movie has looked in the past, Criterion's edition of "My Man Godfrey" must be commended for its ressurection of an almost dead cinematic masterpiece. William Powell stars as Godfrey - a bum and forgotten man transformed at the insistance of a madcap heiress (Carole Lombard) into the perfect penguine - her smart-witted butler!
Previously issued, bootlegged VHS tapes, as well as late night viewings of this movie on television have been painful to watch. Criterion's restoration efforts are a subtle step in the right direction. However, I would be interested in learning how much more can be done with the original film elements.
For the record, "My Man Godfrey" still exhibits a soft picture with low contrast levels and an excessive amount of film grain. Blacks and shadow levels are very weak and there are certain scenes where the gray scale is reduced to either pure black or white visual representation, with an understandable loss of fine detail and over all image clarity. Still, the many rips, chips, tears and water damage, that one was used to seeing before, have all been tempered or all-together eliminated from this print. Many scenes on this transfer exhibit image quality that is quite satisfactory. The audio on this disc is mono but nicely restored. There are several glaring examples of pops and crackles that can be heard, as well as a persistant strident characteristic throughout. But believe me when I say that "My Man Godfrey" - save its premiere, has never looked or sounded better for the home video market.
EXTRAS: Criterion can't convince me of their hefty price tag for a petty audio commentary and inclusion of the Lux Radio Broadcast of this movie included herein. If the price of this disc dropped to around the twenty dollar level I'd be recommending it wholly for your consumption. As it stands, only a die hard fan of this legendary screwball comedy would invest in this disc - there's still much restoration work that needs to be done and the extras, quite frankly, are not worth the price!
on May 30, 2002
MY MAN GODFREY is one of the few films that I have been able to watch over and over and over through the years.
There are many things to praise in this film, but most of it centers upon the cast. I can't imagine any actor more perfect for the title role than William Powell, and despite his long and extremely distinguished career Powell's turn as Godfrey was, in my opinion, the highpoint of his career. As great as Powell is, Carole Lombard just might be better. She was, in my opinion, the greatest screen comedienne there has ever been. No actress was in as many screwball classics as Lombard. And she had the great fortune to be as beautiful as she was talented. As good as Powell and Lombard are, however, they are matched scene for scene by a number of superlative character actors and actresses. Alice Brady is hysterical as the mother of the family. Ironically, she was the widow of Flo Ziegfield, and earlier in 1936, the year MY MAN GODFREY was released, William Powell starred as her husband in that year's Oscar winning film, THE GREAT ZIEGFIELD. If you watch this film several times, as I have, one of the ongoing delights is Brady's frequent inane utterances. Mischa Auer, who plays Alice Brady's protégé, steals nearly every scene he is in, and does perhaps the most hysterical imitation of a monkey in the history of film. Eugene Pallette is one of my all-time favorite character actors. Along with his turn as Friar Tuck in the Errol Flynn version of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and his role as Henry Fonda's father in THE LADY EVE, this is my favorite Pallette role. As the long suffering family patriarch, Pallette provides a degree of sanity to what is otherwise one of the most insane film families one is ever likely to encounter. The rest of the cast is also as strong as one could hope.
A mark of how strong the cast was is the fact that despite a profound bias against comedy in 1930s Oscar nominations (and, indeed, in all decades, the persistent preference being given to more serious films), MY MAN GODFREY managed acting nominations in all four acting categories (Powell, Lombard, Auer, and Brady). Unbelievably, neither Lombard, widely regarded as the greatest comic actress in the history of film, nor Powell ever won an Oscar.
The script is strong, with many, many very fine jokes and comic scenes. The film is slightly dated by what we in the early 21st century would regard as naïve optimism in regard to social problems, but that is also part of the film's charm. It would be nice if we today could recover some of that naïveté, if we could believe that people were motivated less by greed and more by higher values.
This is not just a must see film. It is a must see over and over. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
on March 6, 2002
This is one of my 5 favorite films, and is my favorite comedy of all time. To my mind, the world of cinema suffered its greatest tragedy with the untimely death of the great Carole Lombard in a plane crash during a War Bonds tour of the country. After I saw My Man Godfrey for the first time as a child, I sought information about this wonderful actress. When I read the account of her death, I cried so hard, even though the event had happened many years earlier. I find her performances so extraordinary that I still experience sadness when I think about how much enjoyment she gave and still gives others through her film legacy, yet her own happiness was cut woefully short. I feel that this is her finest film. The script is delightful, and the rest of the cast performs flawlessly! I could watch this film once a week and never tire of it.
The Criterion Edition DVD is superb. The image is excellent for such an old film, and the sound quality is quite good (unlike the other DVD's and VHS editions of this movie, which are terrible transfers). The commentary track is a little dry and on the scholarly side, but quite informative. The best extras on this DVD are the brief outtakes that they unearthed from the vaults (hilarious, with some profanity from the cast) and the terrific radio broadcast version of My Man Godfrey with Carole Lombard and William Powell. The outtakes are in rather bad shape, but it is amazing that they survived at all. The sound quality of the radio play is crystal clear.
Rush out and buy this before it goes out of print!
on October 26, 2001
With digitally restored picture and sound release of "My Man Godfrey" (Criterian Collection) DVD gives us the cleanest most comphrensive "Screwball Comedy" presentation ever!!! Full Screen and flawless Black & White picture with clear sound allows into this world to enjoy. The extras share more background information regarding the "Screwball Comedy".
A Brief explanation regarding "SCREWBALL COMEDY". This style was apated during the depression era when the world Dark (alternate & original name given to the Screwball Comedy) and cynical world. Simply put, a comedy to which we have zany and dizzy story lines which for some reason strike our funny bones and cause us to laugh uncontrolablly. Many Dark and Negative stories take on a satarical form. We poke fun at the absurd learn to look for the "sliver lining" the opermistic side of the story/situation.
In Summary: We find ourselves immersed in the depression years at the New York City dump with the rich heirs and heiresses involved in a scavenger hunt (looking for the "Forgotten Man") and the poor destitute living amongst this rubble. A zany young heiress Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) finds a "Forgotten Man" Godfrey (William Powell). His attraction to this girl & curiosity satisfied returns to the scavenger hunt headquarters so Irene can win the hunt.
Irene admires Godfrey and hires him on the spot to be the family butler and her protege' or "My Man Godfrey".
This is one of the all time classic Screwball comedies and Carole Lombard with William Powell give us a great performance.
We need to see this movie and listen to the commentary to remember and understand the 1930's the depresssion and how the world coped and survived to give us the "GREATEST GENERATION".
"OUR MAN GODFREY" delivers.
on June 12, 2003
This is a brilliant screwball comedy.
Now enough for the movie review, and let's go to plain hard facts about how much cleaner and better the picture and sound quality improvement is.
1. Get cheap PD copy of this film ...
2. After viewing it (if possible), throw it away.
3. Get the Criterion version (... I think is slightly less at Amazon.com).
You will immediately notice how much clearer the picture is, and how much better the sound is. This movie has always been a keeper, but even the greatest keeper with bad picture, and poor sound is barely tollerable. For those that want to omit steps 1 and 2, watch the outtakes segment or trailer to give yourself an idea of what the cheapie version of this film would have been like (although even they were better). The criterion version is definately the best version to get.