film: LaCava: My Man Godfrey (1936)

One of the very few films that, within moments of its beginning, I was hooked, and far before the end, was one of my favorites. Mostly due to William Powell’s acting–that is what hooked me, even before I could see his face in the darkness, his voice is not meant for Hollywood so much as it is meant for life, I mean I believed every word he said. And when I look at the dialogue, rather than listen to it, I recognize how artfully constructed every line is, say “It’s kind of sordid when you think of it, I mean when you think it over.” When Irene is tossed into the shower and bounces out shouting “Godfrey loves me!” and the wedding he falls into at the end, at the house of rich bimbos nervously giggling, at the slight moral of the story, useful to nobody, at the romanticized Depression. I fell in love. I want to own this.

Observation one year later: Harold Lloyd fell out of favor when the Depression struck, and I do wonder how Americans’ sense of humor changed with the circumstances. Did rags to riches comedies cause more anxiety than relief once it seemed the economy was down for the count? And how is it that the story of wealth vacationing in poverty before returning to wealth became a classic? One answer I have is that those who come out on top in this film do so without exerting any energy. Godfrey simply lets go and does what comes naturally, and everyone else allows fate to have its way with them. This opposes Lloyd, who works very hard to reach mediocre success. In a real world where fate has overwhelmed plebeian causality, the success of Lloyd is all too real, and although it’s pathetic, we can’t laugh at it when we see him in ourselves. But Godfrey? From the embers of realism America finally rises to celebrate that which the ashes of history have been dedicated: rich and powerful people! Come on, fight me!

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