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Of the great, classic screwball comedies, 1936’s MY MAN GODFREY ($40) is one of the very few to actually emerge on DVD. I had hoped that by this time, the major studios would have opened their vaults to release the screwball treasures that lay therein, but it seems these films remain a very low priority in comparison to today’s major blockbusters. Fortunately, The Criterion Collection recognizes the importance of movies like MY MAN GODFREY, making this film available to film buffs in the premium home video format.

In addition providing moments genuine hilarity, MY MAN GODFREY also serves as a social commentary on the class distinctions during era of the great depression. The idle rich are depicted as frivolous and flighty, while the poor or working class characters appear as practical, intelligent and very real. In MY MAN GODFREY we find a man named Godfrey (William Powell) living in a shantytown built upon a New York City dump, along with many of the other individuals displaced by the Great Depression. Unexpectedly, a couple of limousines drive up to the dump, with its rich occupants on a scavenger hunt, coming in search of a "forgotten man." Intrigued by the notion of the rich engaged in a scavenger hunt, Godfrey returns to the gala at a posh hotel, in the company of the madcap, but sincere, Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard).

After Godfrey helps her win the scavenger hunt, as well as taking her spoiled sister down a couple of pegs, Irene decides to hire her "forgotten man" as the new family butler. However, after accepting the position, Godfrey quickly discovers the he and the maid are the last vestiges of sanity inside the "eccentric" Bullock household. Despite the chaos that Bullock’s continually spins around him, Godfrey proves to be an ideal butler, who survives working for the Bullocks far longer than any of his predecessors. The wonderful cast of MY MAN GODFREY also features Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, Alan Mowbray, Jean Dixon, Mischa Auer, Robert Light and Pat Flaherty. It should be noted that of the six Academy Award nominations MY MAN GODFREY received, four were in the acting category- a first for any Hollywood film. Powell, Lombard, Brady and Auer all truly deserved the nominations they received for their work, especially Lombard, whose rapid-fire delivery of the film’s breathless dialogue is both hilarious and genuinely moving.

The Criterion Collection has made MY MAN GODFREY available on DVD in a marvelous black and white presentation. MY MAN GODFREY is properly framed at 1.33:1, and despite being nearly seven decades old; the movie looks incredible on DVD. Criterion utilized a duplicate 35mm negative and a Spirit Datacine to create their transfer, thus producing an image of incredible beauty and clarity. There are very few markings on the negative to remind one of the movie’s extreme age; however, there are some visible signs of film grain are present throughout much of the presentation. Still, the black and white cinematography shines through, thanks to richness of detail found in the picture. Blacks are a deep jet black and the clean whites are reproduced with perfect stability. Contrast is excellent and the image produces numerous shades of gray between the two extremes. Digital compression artifacts are completely hidden by dual layer authoring. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack doesn’t suffer from distracting hiss or audible distortions. Dialogue is very crisp and always intelligible, so none of Lombard’s rambling lines are ever lost. Overall, this is an excellent presentation of an aged soundtrack.

Animation and sound serve to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene election and set up features, as well as the DVD’s supplemental material. Film historian Bob Gilpin provides a very detailed and scholarly running audio commentary for MY MAN GODFREY. There is no fat on the track and hardly any pauses in the information that Gilpin conveys. Also included on the DVD is a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of MY MAN GODFREY, starring William Powell and Carole Lombard. In addition the DVD contains newsreel footage, outtakes of the actors swearing after flubbing lines, a still gallery and a theatrical trailer.

MY MAN GODFREY is a classic comic gem that will appeal to anyone who likes to laugh. Criterion’s DVD presentation of MY MAN GODFREY is absolutely first rate, making this disc a must have item for film buffs, as well as fans of William Powell and Carole Lombard. Very highly recommended.


My Man Godfrey - Criterion Collection


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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