“You’re more than a butler — you’re the first protege I ever had!”
When a ditzy heiress (Carole Lombard) befriends a “forgotten man” (William Powell) she meets while on a scavenger hunt, she invites him to work as a butler for her family, and quickly finds herself falling in love with him — unaware that he’s really a wealthy businessman in disguise. Meanwhile, her resentful sister (Gail Patrick) is determined to make life miserable for Godfrey (Powell), while her father (Eugene Pallette) struggles to keep his family’s spending under control, and her mother (Alice Brady) amuses herself with her mooching protege (Mischa Auer).
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that the “interesting premise” of this “classic screwball comedy” — that “it is the bum who has manners and discipline [while] the society clan are wild” — is ruined by the plot “twist” (given away early) that Godfrey (Powell) is actually a millionaire in disguise. He posits that while screenwriters Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind “may have had praiseworthy intentions” by wanting “Powell to discuss cynically both the plight and the nobility of the unemployed during the Depression”, director “Gregory La Cava has trouble maintaining a humorous thread while injecting serious themes”; he posits that “if the film’s going to attempt social criticism, it shouldn’t be so timid about it”. He concludes his review by noting that the “film succeeds not because of the story or direction but because of the spirited performances”, with “suave Powell and daffy Lombard [possessing] some great moments together”.
I can’t quite agree with most of Peary’s sentiments, given that I find the fast-paced screenplay consistently clever and witty, and don’t have any problem with the way Powell’s mysterious character is written. Indeed, it’s likely that if the social themes were taken more seriously, the entire affair would ultimately be much less successful as a wacky screwball flick. Peary’s right, however, to call out the fine performances by Lombard and Powell, who do indeed possess great chemistry together; it’s especially touching to know that they were divorced, yet still affectionate enough towards one other to maintain good relations. I’m also fond of the supporting performances throughout this ensemble piece — most notably gravelly-voiced character actor Eugene Pallette as the family’s harried patriarch, and fey Franklin Pangborn in an early bit role as the officiant for the scavenger hunt (a wonderful extended scene) that propels the plot into action.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Carole Lombard as Irene Bullock (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- William Powell as Godfrey (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
- Eugene Pallette as Alexander Bullock: “Life in this family is one subpoena after the other…”
- Franklin Pangborn in a bit part as a scavenger hunt official
Yes, as a genuine screwball classic. Added to the National Film Registry in 1999, and listed as #44 on AFI’s “100 Funniest Movies”.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)