Pillow Talk

Doris Day, Rock Hudson share a party line in "Pillow Talk."

Pillow Talk, 1959, Universal International. Starring Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall. Directed by Michael Gordon. Technicolor, 102 minutes.

Jan Morrow (Doris Day), a proper and dignified interior designer, and Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), a womanizing songwriter, share both a telephone party line and and an antagonistic relationship. Both have frequent need of the phone line for their varying interests, and the two clash on a regular basis.

Jan complains to the phone company to no avail. Brad is fed up with her interference in his dalliances. Both take their grievances to the one person they unknowingly have in common, Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall). He’s in love with Jan and best friends with Brad, although the two have never met, save for their feisty phone conversations.

One night Brad realizes the woman seated at a nearby table is his nemesis Jan, who’s warding off a handsy college boy. He suavely comes to her rescue, but hides his real identity, pretending instead to be rancher Rex Stetson. Jan soon finds herself falling for the humble gentleman she in finds Rex, and at the same time, discussing her new flame with Brad.

Doris Day, Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk
Doris Day, Rock Hudson

This was the first pairing of Day and Hudson, who went on to make two more films together, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. Both of those also featured Tony Randall, who was an integral part of the success of the films.

Pillow Talk won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for four others, including Best Actress (Day) and Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter). It also received three Golden Globe nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor (Randall).

Rock Hudson, Tony Randall in Pillow Talk
Rock Hudson, Tony Randall

Day later said in her autobiography, “I particularly liked [the script] because the humor came from situation and characterization rather than from jokes [making it] very sophisticated comedy. She also noted her immediate rapport with Hudson, saying “we played our scenes together as if we had once lived them.”

As innocent as the story is now, Pillow Talk was considered racy fare for films at that time. Some of the frisky behavior portrayed was offset by Jan’s chaste demeanor. Still, while audiences believed Day was playing a virgin, she did not think so. “I was a businesswoman. I don’t think I was a virgin. I went off to the country with him and I probably would have succumbed. Except I figured out he was a phony and ran away.”

Pillow Talk remains tremendously fun and charming, in part because of the script and perhaps more importantly because of Day’s and Hudson’s appealing performances. It is a film that has stood the test of time in hearty fashion.

 

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Nothing Sacred (1937)

Nothing Sacred, 1937, United Artists. Starring Carole Lombard, Fredric March. Directed by William A. Wellman. Technicolor, 74 minutes.

Wally Cook (Fredric March) is a reporter who needs to prove he isn’t a fraud — and fast. He learns of a woman with six months to live after a diagnosis of radium poisoning, and races to make her plight his next big human interest story. The problem is, Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), the patient in question, has just gotten a clean bill of health.

But Hazel sees a chance to get out of the small Vermont town she’s always called home and experience life in the big city. Not bothering to correct Wally’s assumption that she’s terminally ill, she lets him fly her to New York. Soon, she’s a heroine on the scale of Joan of Arc or Pocahantas. The city embraces her, and even the governor gets involved.

Her conscience catches up with her, however, at about the same time her lie does.

Carole Lombard, Fredric March in Nothing Sacred
Carole Lombard, Fredric March

Lombard had already established herself as one of the best, and likely the most attractive, of the screwball actresses. This film, with its strong script and the rare use of technicolor, helped solidify her standing. As popular as she was with audiences, she was a favorite of directors as well.  Lombard would battle for what she wanted, but once a final decision had been made, she accepted it. From there she would remain wholly committed to the production of the film as established, throwing herself into the part and defending every aspect the producers had decided upon.

The decision to shoot in technicolor paid off, although the film industry was still slow to accept it for common use. Today, whether due to the lack of quality in the technology of the time or degradation of the film in the years since, the color is, at times, distracting. It fades from one hue to the other, and skin tone is inevitably ruddy. It seems unlikely Lombard’s hair was actually that brassy. In some ways the film looks like early attempts at colorizing films, only not as good.

Fredric March in Nothing Sacred
Fredric March

The script was written by Ben Hecht, who was also responsible for His Girl Friday (or rather, The Front Page, along with Charles MacArthur). It once again displays a cynical view of journalism, focusing on deception and trickery to get the story. Numerous notable authors of the time were said to have contributed to the final script, including Dorothy Parker, Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. It is witty and sharp, and the humor holds up today.

Although it was more common at that time for comedies to receive Oscar nominations, Nothing Sacred had none. Still, Lombard’s performance was hailed as equal to her Academy Award-nominated role the year before in My Man Godfrey, and justifiably so.

Although less well known today,  this is one of the best screwball comedies of its time, and remains relevant and worth the watch for modern audiences.

Too Many Husbands

Melvyn Douglas, Fred MacMurray, Jean Arthur in Too Many Husbands

Too Many Husbands, 1940, Columbia Pictures. Starring Jean Arthur, Fred MacMurray, Melvyn Douglas. Directed by Wesley Ruggles. B&W, 84 minutes.

Left alone and lonely after her husband, Bill Cardew (Fred MacMurray), is lost at sea, Vicki Lowndes (Jean Arthur) has remarried, this time to Bill’s best friend and business partner, Henry Lowndes (Melvyn Douglas). Six months into Vicki’s second marriage, her first husband, Bill, miraculously reappears from the deserted island where he’d spent the last year.

Vicki is torn between the two men, of course, but is also enjoying the attention of these jealous rivals. Both husbands had tended to put her second to their other interests, yet now she is their primary concern. It’s a heady feeling.

Eventually the thrill of being fought over dissipates, and Vicki finds herself faced with an impossible decision. It’s not helped by her husbands’ return to their previous camaraderie, and (unlike many films of the day) the lack of one clear “best” choice.

Fred MacMurray, Melvyn Douglas in Too Many Husbands
Fred MacMurray, Melvyn Douglas

The plot is remarkably similar to another and more popular film released in 1940, My Favorite Wife. Not surprising, given that both were inspired by the poem “Enoch Arden” by Lord Alfred Tennyson. In fact, a multitude of films with the same basic plot had been made in the early days of silent films, many of them based on the play “Home and Beauty” by Somerset Maugham (as was Too Many Husbands)

This film is more ambiguous than most, which caused some problems with censors. The initial script was rejected by the Motion Picture Production Code, in part because Vicki was “impatient to indulge in marital privilege.” Such eagerness was not seen by censors as appropriate for the screen.

Compared to the near slapstick nature of My Favorite Wife, it is more subtle in its humor. The supporting cast plays an important role in the funniest parts of the film with their understated looks, gestures and comments.

Fred MacMurray, Jean Arthur, Melvyn Douglas in Too Many Husbands
Fred MacMurray, Jean Arthur, Melvyn Douglas

The stars, Arthur, MacMurray and Douglas, were among the most popular comedy actors of the time. Douglas had experienced tremendous success the year before with Ninotchka, and MacMurray was a regular in screwball comedies. Arthur was experiencing a bit of a slump, something her husband worked hard to overcome. She’d been offered the lead in My Favorite Wife, but scheduling conflicts kept her from accepting that role.

This is an enjoyable film, particularly if you remain alert to the quieter kind of comedy it offers. It is a classic screwball theme told with a more sophisticated tone, and suffers a bit from the comparison. Still, it is a film classic movie buffs will enjoy.

Angel Face (1953)

Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons in Angel Face

Angel Face, 1953, RKO Radio Pictures. Starring Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons. Directed by Otto Preminger. B&W, 91 minutes.

An emergency call late one night brings ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) to the Treymaine mansion, where the worst seems to be over for the lady of the home. On his way out of the home, Frank chances on young Diane Treymaine (Jean Simmons) solemnly playing the piano, her eyes distant.

Diane surprises Frank later by following him to a diner, where, despite his involvement with a co-worker, Mary (Mona Freeman), he agrees to take Diane out for the evening. The two enjoy dinner and dancing together, while Mary sits at home with the meal she prepared for herself and Frank.

Diane quickly entrenches herself in Frank’s life, hiring him as the family chauffeur and making moves for a romantic relationship. He’s wary, and attempts to stop both the job and the woman when Diane does what he suspected she was thinking of doing: kills her stepmother. What she didn’t know when she tampered with the car was her beloved father would catch a last-minute ride with his wife and die on the same rocky slope.

Diane and Frank are brought to trial for murder, and events are set in motion for Frank to make a full escape — or not.

Robert Mitchum in Angel Face
Robert Mitchum

A plot clearly inspired by — if not directly lifted from — The Postman Always Rings Twice, this movie still works. Mitchum is his usual laconic self, and whether or not his laid-back demeanor is a strength or fault in the story is up for debate. His acting is in stark contrast to the wildly dramatic story. It’s hard to believe any man wouldn’t be more shaken by events and more emotional in his response. However, that was Mitchum’s signature style, and it was what audiences wanted.

RKO Pictures was headed by Howard Hughes at that point, and his obsessive control wreaked havoc with the entire studio, Simmons, angry over Hughes’ insistence at deciding her hairstyles, cut her hair short, allegedy with a pair of shears. The studio quickly designed wigs replicating her luxuriously thick, dark locks.

That erratic, impulsive behavior was reflected, albeit more intensely, in the character of Diane Treymaine. Simmons played it at just the right level, clear enough for audiences to see her evil, yet making it evident why Frank Jessup was so taken by her.

Jean Simmons, Barbara O'Neil in Angel Face
Jean Simmons, Barbara O”Neil

The film received only lukewarm reviews at the time of its release, such as this from the critic at The New York Times:  “Angel Face, yesterday’s new melodrama at the Mayfair, is an exasperating blend of genuine talent, occasional perceptiveness and turgid psychological claptrap that enhances neither RKO, which should know better, nor the participants.”

Today it is more highly regarded by critics and audiences alike. Despite its similarity to earlier movies, it is a compelling story, expertly directed by Otto Preminger. The story may be familiar, but the movie still is fresh.

Old Acquaintance

Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins in Old Acquaintance

Old Acquaintance, 1943, Warner Bros. Starring Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins. Directed by Vincent Sherman. B&W, 110 minutes.

Kit Marlowe (Bette Davis), a critically successful author, has returned to her hometown to see her closest childhood friend, Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins). Millie has big news: she and her husband Preston (John Loder) are expecting.

It’s during that visit that Millie shows Kit her own manuscript and asks if she will take it to her publisher. Kit willingly does so, and Millie’s career of writing popular fiction begins.

Eight years and eight of Millie’s books later, the two are both in New York for the opening of Kit’s play. However, Millie and Preston don’t make it to the theatre, as he has packed his bags and walked out on his marriage.

That night he confesses to Kit he has long been in love with her, feelings Kit admits she reciprocates, yet refuses to act on. The stage is set for conflict and confrontation in the years ahead, by which time Millie’s daughter is grown and ready for romance of her own.

Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis in Old Acquaintance
Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis

Old Acquaintance is melodramatic fare done well. Davis plays the sensible, even-keeled Kit with her usual flair (although it could be argued she was at her best playing less likeable characters). For her part, Hopkins unequivocally took on the part of Millie, a self-centered woman whose intellect is clearly inferior to her friend’s.

In real life, the friction between the two woman was sharp, as Davis was alleged to have had an affair with Hopkins’ now ex-husband, Anatole Litvak. Hopkins was notoriously temperamental, and Davis was no mild-mannered pushover. The two had starred together in an earlier tearjerker, The Old Maid. While both were said to have been reluctant to share the screen again, each agreed the other was the right actress for their respective roles in Old Acquaintance.

John Loder, Bette Davis in OId Acquaintance
John Loder, Bette Davis

Edmund Goulding was set to direct the play and had completed the pre-production work, such as set and costume design, when he had a heart attack and was forced to bow out. The job then went to Vincent Sherman, who later recalled the movie “wasn’t what I was used to doing, but it was a good film.” Sherman and Hopkins got along well right from the start, but it took a little more convincing for Davis to accept him.

Old Acquaintance received no Academy Award nominations, and it really wasn’t Oscar fare. It did, however, do very well in the box office. It was a time when so-called “women’s films” were highly popular, and the soap opera aspect of the story played well for audiences.

Based on the popular play by John Van Druten, who wrote the screenplay with Goulding and Lenore Coffee, it is easy to see how well this story would be told on stage. It is a tale perhaps meant more for Broadway than Hollywood, but it makes a decent film.

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce, 1945, Warner Bros. Starring Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Ann Blyth. Directed by Michael Curtiz. B&W, 111 minutes.

A sharp psychological drama that has had feminists debating the nature of its leading lady’s motivations and decisions from the day it was released, Mildred Pierce is as provocative a a mother/daughter tale as you’ll discover on film.

Set in sunny southern California, yet somehow dark in atmosphere and telling, this is the narrative of a woman who will sacrifice anything for her ever-ungrateful daughter. Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) married young and has two girls. As she explains it, this is the only life she knows. However, her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) is out of work and apparently has an interest in another woman. After a particularly nasty fight one evening, he packs his bags and walks out, leaving Mildred alone to pay the bills.

Beyond the usual costs of keeping a home, Mildred has big dreams for her children that come with a price. She’s hired an expensive voice coach for her older daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth), and her younger girl, Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) is enrolled in dance classes. What’s more, nothing will truly please self-absorbed Veda, yet Mildred is determined to give her everything she wants.

Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth
Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth

She turns to her friend Wally Fay (Jack Carson) for help with her dream of opening a restaurant. Wally finds a property owned by Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott) and arranges a deal with him that allows Mildred to open her new — and highly successful — place at a cost she can afford. Beragon, for his part, has fallen for Mildred.

What follows is a complex tale of confused relationships, a family’s sorrows and a woman’s choices in the face of losing odds in all she treasures.

Director Michael Curtiz had reluctantly agreed to Crawford’s unusual offer to do a screen test for the part after learning Barbara Stanwyck and several other actresses he sought wouldn’t be available. Despite his hesitation, that screen test quickly convinced him Crawford was the right choice. Still, tension remained between the two throughout production, and producer Jerry Wald often stepped in to mediate.

Not everyone had complaints about working with Crawford. Ann Blyth later recalled her as “the kindest, most helpful human being I’ve ever worked with. We remained friends for many years after the film. I never knew that other Joan Crawford that people wrote about.”

Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott
Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott

Crawford, whose career had been in a slump prior to this film, won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Mildred Pierce. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role (twice, for Eve Arden and Ann Blyth) Best Writing, Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, Black & White. (The Oscar for Best Picture that year went to The Lost Weekend, starring Ray Milland.)

After seeing the film, James M. Cain, author of the novel Mildred Pierce on which the film was based, sent Joan Crawford a signed first edition of his original book. The inscription read: “To Joan Crawford, who brought Mildred Pierce to life just as I had always hoped she would be, and who has my lifelong gratitude.”

Mildred’s role as wife and mother has long been debated by feminists. Analyzing it in that way, particularly in context of the times, is beyond the scope of this review.  Interpreting motives in fictional characters is a difficult thing to do when singular actions in film may take place simply to move a story forward. However, as a well-played, complex character from that era, it doesn’t get much better than Mildred Pierce.


 

People Will Talk (1951)

People Will Talk, 1951, 20th Century Fox. Starring Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, Hume Cronyn. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. B&W, 110 minutes.

A movie best enjoyed when you understand the politics of the time, People Will Talk is a meandering film with a fine cast. There are multiple story lines competing for attention, all with serious social implications.

Dr. Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant) is a practicing physician who teaches at the local university. Held in high esteem by colleagues and students alike, his sometimes eccentric behavior has caught the attention of small-minded Professor Rodney Elwell (Hume Cronyn). Determined to strip Dr. Praetorius of his medical license, Elwell begins an investigation. Included on his list of concerns is the doctor’s odd and quiet friend, Mr. Shunderson (Finley Currie).

A visitor, Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain), joins the doctor’s class one day, ostensibly to observe why he’s so popular. Several minutes into his lecture, she faints, and Dr. Praetorius switches from professor to physician. Soon both learn she is pregnant, an unwelcome situation for Deborah. The father, she reveals in confidence, is a man she barely knew, and she certainly wasn’t married to him. In despair, she shoots herself, but suffers few injuries. Shortly thereafter she runs away from the hospital and returns home to her father, Arthur (Sidney Blackmer).

The doctor’s further attempts to help her change the course of their lives, while Professor Elwell continues to seek reason to end the career of his nemesis.

Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain in People Will Talk
Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain

People Will Talk takes on such issues as unwanted pregnancy, injustice in the legal system and most importantly, the McCarthy investigations of alleged communists. While these situations are all handily resolved for the characters in this film, the message is clear: many are judged harshly for their misfortune (not to call a baby a misfortune), and pay severe consequences for society’s narrow thinking.

Whether intended or not (and it appears it was not), today the movie most often provokes discussion of the boundaries between physician and patient. Should the doctor take such a personal concern in the fate of a young woman because he is sympathetic to her situation? Other moral issues arise when it is revealed he previously practiced medicine without letting his patients know he had a medical degree, because they were suspicious of modern medicine.

Cary Grant, Hume Cronyn in People Will Talk
Cary Grant, Hume Cronyn

This was Joseph Mankiewicz’ first film after the enormously successful All About Eve, which came close on the heels of A Letter to Three Wives. Those films were edgier, focusing on the relationships between women, particularly where men are involved. People Will Talk has a different feel to it. It is more somber and complex, requiring deeper insight in understanding the motivation of the characters.

The film received no Academy Award nominations, but it is not the splashy Hollywood production Mankiewicz’ previous films — or at least the two most recent — had been. Nor is it as compelling. Still, it raises important questions.

Cary Grant, Sidney Blackmer in People Will Talk
Cary Grant, Sidney Blackmer

Grant plays a somewhat different sort of character than what he is best known for, and he does it well. Crain is perfectly cast as the distraught young woman who grows into a change of station in her life. The supporting cast is strong, particularly the performance of Cronyn, who plays a most unlikeable character with panache.

If you enjoyed Mankeiwicz’ earlier films and are looking for the same from People Will Talk, you will be disappointed. If you expect a low-key film that shamelessly takes on a plethora of social ills, you’ll find this to be an enjoyable and thoughtful story.

Woman of the Year

Katharine Hepburn Spencer Tracy star in Woman of the Year

Woman of the Year, 1942, MGM Pictures. Starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Fay Bainter. Directed by George Stevens. B&W, 114 minutes.

An incomparable combination of cast, director and screenwriters created a timeless film about a powerful woman with a notable lack of expertise in love. The story is compelling, honest and funny, and it’s impossible to ignore the real-life burgeoning romance between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who met on the set of this movie. (That love affair continued until his death in 1967).

Hepburn plays Tess Harding, a highly accomplished international affairs reporter, fluent in multiple languages, with a high society background. Enter Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy), a well-respected sportswriter with a more middle-class background. She is not completely out of his league, but a bit foreign to it.

The two work for the same big-name newspaper at a time when newspapers reigned as the source of information, and find themselves thrown together both by chance and by choice. Love seemingly has overcome that which might divide them. Tess takes on the challenge of learning baseball, oblivious about how out-of-place she is at the game. Sam valiantly works the room at a cocktail party for international dignitaries, or tries to, until language barriers bring his efforts to a halt.

Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn.png
Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn

The future looks bright for this sharp couple, with perhaps some comical transition to wedded bliss in store.

Not so fast. This is a fun and funny movie, but the humor is woven into Tess & Sam’s struggle with their differences. Ultimately, their marriage is tested to a possible point of no return. With a finely written script and keenly portrayed characters, how that struggle unfolds is what makes this such a rich and rewarding film.

The character of Tess Harding was based directly on Dorothy Thompson, considered by many “the first lady of journalism.” Thompson’s second husband was Sinclair Lewis, and comments spoken at an award ceremony mused on her ability to have a successful career and successful marriage at the same time. Screenwriter and director Garson Kanin jotted down the outline for Woman of the Year, but prior commitments prevented him from developing the story any further. Instead, he suggested his brother Michael work with Ring Laudner Jr.

The ending falls a little flat, although the message is good, and a bit of background on the making of the film tells us why. The original ending didn’t play well when tested with audiences (either that or the higher ups at MGM weren’t happy, it isn’t clear), so against their wishes, the stars and screenwriters Laudner & Kanin pulled together something new. Despite the messy changes, the script won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Fortunately, they were able to keep the final key message intact. It’s a message as true today as it was then, and one that women faced with combining career and marriage will appreciate. Hopefully, their men will as well.

katharine-hepburn-spencer-tracy
Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

This movie has honesty, intelligence, complexity, humor and of course, genuine chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn (the latter was nominated for an Academy Award). Fay Bainter, as Hepburn’s equally liberal and driven aunt, is appealing in her vulnerable and straightforward nature.

This is a classic story for women who want to “have it all” — because it tells us you can’t, but at the same time, you can.

 

Love in the Afternoon

Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon

Love in the Afternoon, 1957, Allied Artists Picture Corporation. Starring Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier. Directed by Billy Wilder. B&W, 130 minutes.

Ariane Chavasse (Audrey Hepburn), a young Parisian woman living with her private investigator father, Claude (Maurice Chevalier), overhears one of her father’s clients plan to kill the man who has been meeting his wife for afternoon liaisons. Pictures of the soon-to-be victim, Frank Flanagan (Gary Cooper), intrigue young Ariane, who sets out to rescue him.

She maneuvers her way through hotel rooms and balconies into Frank’s room, where, indeed, he is with the wife of Claude’s client. With some quick thinking and further deception, Ariane and Frank convince the gun-wielding husband his wife is not in the room (and at this point she is not). While doing so, they share a kiss, and sparks begin to fly.

But Flanagan is a known womanizer, and Ariane is an innocent. When Claude realizes what is happening, he is both alarmed and saddened by his daughter’s interest in the philandering Frank, and does what he can to stop them. The heart will have what it wants, however. Ariane proceeds with her plans to seduce Flanagan. For his part, Frank Flanagan is soon captivated by the young woman in a manner new to him, and despite her inexperience, Ariane plays her cards well.

Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon
Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn

When asked about the age difference between the stars (Cooper was 56, Hepburn was 27, and the nearly 30 years was noticeable — and notable), director Wilder said, “He’s Gary Cooper. He could get any woman he wanted.” As with many of his films, Wilder originally wanted Cary Grant, who declined the part. Grant was 53. Wilder then considered Yul Brenner, planning to model the character after Aly Khan, at the time the husband of Rita Hayworth.

The film was well received by critics, with The New York Times gushing, “The pedestal on which the reputation of Ernst Lubitsch has been sitting all these years will have to be relocated slightly to make room for another one. On this one we’ll set Billy Wilder. Reason: Love in the Afternoon.”

The critic goes on to point out the story has no moral, which is true enough. As romantic as the ending may be, it takes a great leap of faith to believe in it and not cry out after Hepburn, “don’t do it, you fool!” Some credibility comes from the way the story is told, rolling out in such a way to show Flanagan evolving away from his carefree attitude toward romance.

Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon
Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn

Love in the Afternoon was less appealing to audiences of the time, even in Europe, where several scenes were cut. In France, the name of the film was changed to Ariane, as the original title was considered too provocative. In an effort to placate audiences concerned about the morality of the story, there is a voice-over from Chevalier in the end assuring everyone the two are now happily married.

If anything, it is the class and charm of the stars that make this movie worth watching, for the story itself leans to the déclassé and tawdry. Chevalier plays the loving and concerned father with grace and compassion, Cooper is, of course, Gary Cooper, and Hepburn is a young girl in love, naïve and hopeful.

The script, by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond (their first of many collaborations), is inventive, playing on both the sexual nature of the story and the innocence of new romance. If the tale is considered in the way intended, it is a passably charming one, but there are credibility issues to overcome, and a greater suspension of disbelief to allow for in accepting a happy ending.

My Man Godfrey (1936)

William Powell Carole Lombard My Man Godfrey

My Man Godfrey, 1936, Universal Pictures. Starring William Powell, Carole Lombard. Directed by Gregory La Cava. B&W (colorized version also available), 94 minutes.

Society elite Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) and her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) are seeking a “forgotten man” as part of a scavenger hunt, and come upon Godfrey Smith (William Powell) living at a city dump. The two women are on separate teams, and Cornelia is the first to offer Godfrey five dollars if he’ll help her win the prize. Her offer is met with a shove into a pile of ashes, and Irene decides it’s best to walk away as well.

Carole Lombard, William Powell starring in My Man Godfrey
Carole Lombard, William Powell

But Godfrey, after talking to the flighty Irene, chooses to help her win the scavenger hunt and triumph over her sister. To her delight, he denounces the group of wealthy citizens applauding him after her team’s victory is declared. She offers him a job as the family’s butler, which he graciously accepts.

Cornelia, still bitter toward Godfrey, does her best to undermine his abilities and character. It’s soon obvious to her, although the rest of the family seems oblivious to it, that Irene is falling for their new servant.

In addition to dizzy Irene and conniving Cornelia, there’s the mother, Angelica (Alice Brady), a featherbrained woman who drinks a little too much; her “protegé,” Carlo (Mischa Auer), a man who is clearly taking advantage of the family; and husband and father Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), a man who’s burdened by the weight of his failing business and family’s antics.

Carole Lombard, William Powell My Man Godfrey
Carole Lombard, William Powell

Showing the wealthy to be frivolous and foolish was a classic Depression-era theme, as was giving someone down-and-out sudden wealth. This is a definitive screwball comedy, with yes, implausible plot elements, but a realistic plot line is hardly important here.

What is important is the effortless acting of the two stars, the strength of talent of the supporting cast, the fine direction by Gregory La Cava and all the elements of cinematography, lighting, set decoration, costume and the rest that sets movies of that era apart from movies today.

Powell had lobbied for Lombard to star in the movie, and La Cava, a personal friend of hers, was in agreement. The two stars had divorced three years earlier after two years of marriage, but remained good friends until her death in 1942. The chemistry between them is evident and somewhat mirrors their real-life personas; he the quieter, more urbane of the two, she the unconventional, outspoken one.

William Powell, Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey
William Powell, Carole Lombard

My Man Godfrey was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Actor for Powell, Best Actress for Lombard, Best Supporting Actress for Alice Brady, Best Supporting Actor for Mischa Auer and Best Writing, Screenplay for Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind.

It’s the only movie to date to be nominated in all four acting categories without being nominated for Best Picture, and until 2013, was the only film to be nominated in these six categories without winning any of them.

The movie has been colorized, and both versions are available on DVD (generally the same DVD). This trailer has been colorized: