“My Man Godfrey” is an American screwball comedy film directed by Gregory La Cava. The screenplay was written by Morrie Ryskind, with uncredited contributions by La Cava, based on “1011 Fifth”, a short novel by Eric Hatch. The story concerns a socialite who hires a derelict to be her family’s butler, only to fall in love with him, much to his dismay.
During the Great Depression, Godfrey “Smith” (William Powell) is living alongside other men down on their luck at the city dump. One night, spoiled socialite Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) offers him five dollars to be her “forgotten man” for a scavenger hunt. Annoyed, he advances on her, causing her to retreat and fall on a pile of ashes. She leaves in a fury, much to the glee of her younger sister, Irene (Carole Lombard). After talking with her, Godfrey finds her to be kind, if a bit scatter-brained. He offers to go with Irene to help her beat Cornelia. In the ballroom of the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel, Irene’s long-suffering businessman father, Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), waits resignedly as his ditsy wife, Angelica (Alice Brady), and her mooching “protégé” Carlo (Mischa Auer) play the frivolous game. Godfrey arrives and is “authenticated” by the scavenger hunt judge as a “forgotten man”. He then addresses the idle rich, expressing his contempt for their antics. Irene is apologetic and offers him a job as the family butler, which he gratefully accepts.
The next morning, Godfrey is shown what to do by the sardonic, wise-cracking maid, Molly (Jean Dixon), the only servant who has been able to put up with the antics of the family. She warns him that he is just the latest in a long line of butlers. Only slightly daunted, he proves to be surprisingly competent, although Cornelia still holds a sizeable grudge. On the other hand, Irene considers Godfrey to be her protégé, and is thrilled by his success. A complication arises when a guest, Tommy Gray (Alan Mowbray), greets Godfrey familiarly as an old friend. Godfrey quickly ad-libs that he was Tommy’s valet at school. Tommy plays along, mentioning Godfrey’s non-existent wife and five children. Dismayed, Irene impulsively announces her engagement to the surprised Charlie Van Rumple (Grady Sutton), but she soon breaks down in tears and flees after being politely congratulated by Godfrey. Over lunch the next day, Tommy is curious to know what one of the elite “Parkes of Boston” is doing as a servant. Godfrey explains that a broken love affair had left him considering suicide, but the optimistic, undaunted attitude of the men living at the dump rekindled his spirit.
Meanwhile, when everything she does to make Godfrey’s life miserable fails, Cornelia sneaks into his room and plants her pearl necklace under his mattress. She then calls the police to report her “missing” jewelry. To Cornelia’s surprise, the pearls do not turn up, even when she suggests they check Godfrey’s bed. Mr. Bullock realizes his daughter has orchestrated the whole thing and sees the policemen out. The Bullocks then send their daughters off to Europe to get Irene away from Godfrey. When they return, Cornelia implies that she intends to seduce Godfrey. Worried, Irene stages a fainting spell and falls into Godfrey’s arms. He carries her to her bed, but while searching for smelling salts, he realizes she’s faking when he sees her (in a mirror) sit up briefly. In revenge, he puts her in the shower and turns on the cold water full blast. Far from quenching her attraction, this merely confirms her hopes: “Oh Godfrey, now I know you love me…You do or you wouldn’t have lost your temper.”
When confronted by the rest of the family, Godfrey quits. But Mr. Bullock has more pressing concerns…
Directed and produced by Gregory La Cava, written by Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind and Gregory LaCava, starring William Powell as Godfrey Park, Carole Lombard as Irene Bullock, Alice Brady as Angelica Bullock, Gail Patrick as Cornelia Bullock, Eugene Pallette as Alexander Bullock, Jean Dixon as Molly, Alan Mowbray as Tommy Gray, Mischa Auer as Carlo, Pat Flaherty as Mike Flaherty, Robert Light as Faithful George and Grady Sutton as Charlie Van Rumple.