This remake of the 1936 screwball classic My Man Godfrey very much works as a snapshot of the time and how the wealthy as well as the social elite acted. In many ways we can still see this behavior on display when we look at some of the modern celebrities (looking at you, Kardashian family) we can view it as harmless privilege or simply an abuse of wealth. Either way, when watching this film, though it has plenty of charm, there is plenty to cringe about when viewing the behavior of some of these characters. When watching this, it’s best to go into it thinking of it as nothing more than a silly story and just ignore how improbable any of this could actually be. The film opens up with a chase taking place. Irene Bullock (June Allyson) is in hot pursuit of her sister, Cordelia Bullock (Martha Hyer) as they speed through the back streets of New York. Irene is trying to catch up with her sister who has stolen a goat that she intends on using for a scavenger hunt. It’s when the pursuit is taken to a pier where the ladies encounter Godfrey Smith (David Niven) who is posing as a vagrant but in reality has illegally jumped ship when traveling from Austria in search for a new life. Irene is immediately smitten by Godfrey and how he is willing to stand up to her sister, and she decides she’s going to bring Godfrey in as her “animal” in hopes of winning the scavenger hunt. She then offers him a job, to be her butler, which he reluctantly takes, and then of course more screwball hijinks occur.
Though Irene is a bit of a spoiled brat, she is very charming at times, but my biggest problem is we never really get to see just what it is that makes her fall so easily for Godfrey other than it seems she likes the notion that she found herself a stray off the street and wants to be his savior … though it is quite obvious she needs saving from herself with her behavior when things don’t go her way. If it weren’t for Allyson in this role, I feel Irene would simply be an unbearable character. Then there is the continued feud with her sister. You can almost understand why Cordelia is frustrated with Irene’s antics, but she’s just as spoiled and really doesn’t have to face any consequences for her actions, that is until Godfrey calls her out on it.
The real star of the film is David Niven. He does a lot of the heavy lifting with each scene he’s in and is really what makes this an enjoyable film to watch. Godfrey is trying to find a purpose with his life, and he sees that he could possibly help this eccentric family. What is a bit of a head-scratcher is why he would put up with so much nonsense from these characters, and then the sudden and abrupt romance that kindles in the third act is frankly a bit hard to believe. The more interesting relationships I feel Godfrey has are with the maid, Molly (Jeff Donnell) and then Francesca (Eva Gabor), a socialite and family friend of the Bullock family. There is a fun chemistry between Niven and Gabor, and I like the history the two characters shared. Frankly this is the romance I had expected to see blossom on screen, but alas, that doesn’t happen.
The film was shot in Cinemascope and does look great, though most of the film was shot on a stage. Director Henry Koster does a decent job with this cast and keeps the film engaging. It comes in a brisk 92 minutes and manages not to overstay its welcome. Personally I feel his film Harvey is the better film, but My Man Godfrey does have its moments. While the ending I don’t feel is one that is earned, it is one that will keep most audiences that appreciate the time period entertained.