Cast: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Eugene Pallette, Alan Mowbray
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (William Powell), Best Actress (Carole Lombard), Best Supporting Actor (Mischa Auer), Best Supporting Actress (Alice Brady), Best Director (Gregory La Cava), Best Writing, Screenplay (Eric Hatch, Morrie Ryskind)
SUMMARY: Godfrey Smith (William Powell) is a down-and-out man living in a shantytown at the city dump with a number of other men (this being the Depression). One evening, three people in fancy evening clothes show up: Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick), a male friend of hers, and her sister Irene (Carole Lombard). All three are engaged in a scavenger hunt, and are in search of a “forgotten man”. Cornelia offers Godfrey five dollars to come back to the base with her, but he is insulted, and intimidates her so much that she falls into a pile of ashes. Cornelia and her friend then leave, forgetting Irene. Rather than be upset, Irene is delighted that Cornelia is so upset, as the two do not get along. Godfrey then offers to do one better: he will be the forgotten man for Irene, so that she will win the hunt and beat Cornelia. The two go back to the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel, the headquarters of the scavenger hunt, where they find the rest of Cornelia’s family: her father, Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), who is fed up with the antics of the females in his family; her mother, Angelic (Alice Brady), a clueless, shrill woman, and her “protégé”, musician Carlo (Mischa Auer). Irene does win the game, and in gratitude offers Godfrey the job as the family’s butler. Godfrey accepts the job, but begins to rethink it almost immediately: when he arrives at the house the next morning, the maid warns him that a new butler is hired every day, due to the family’s eccentricities. Godfrey proves very adept at his job, to the delight of Irene, who now considers him to be her protégé. However, Cornelia has not forgotten about the encounter at the dump. A strange thing happens when the family hosts a dinner party: a man named Tommy Gray attends, and recognizes Godfrey as a former classmate at a prestigious school. On Godfrey’s cue, the two men concoct a cover story, which involves Godfrey having a wife and five children. Irene, who has taken a fancy to Godfrey, is irate, and immediately announces her engagement to another man: when this fails to have the desired impact on Godfrey, she breaks the engagement.
The next day, Godfrey meets Tommy for lunch, and explains what is going on. Godfrey is really a member of a prestigious family, the Parkes, but grew suicidal after the end of a relationship. He went to the river to kill himself, but instead found the men living in the dump, and ended up staying with them. Meanwhile, Cornelia has not given up her plans to get back at Godfrey, and in an attempt to get him fired (and arrested), she plants a pearl necklace in her room, then tells her father that it’s missing. She calls the police, but when they look in Godfrey’s room the pearls are not there. When he sees Cornelia’s reaction, Alexander realizes what has happened, and sends the police away. Following this incident, both Bullock daughters are sent to Europe for several months. When they return, Cornelia tries to egg Irene on by coming onto Godfrey, so Irene fakes sick; Godfrey carries her to her room, but sees she is faking, so he puts her in a cold shower. Oddly, this only convinces Irene that Godfrey returns her love. Godfrey then quits his job as the butler, but as he is leaving the house he overhears Mr. Bullock saying that his business has failed, and the family is essentially broke. Godfrey then announces that he pawned the missing pearl necklace and bought the cheap business stock; when his money was remade, he regained the necklace. He then hands both the necklace and the stock certificates to Mr. Bullock, thereby saving the business. Godfrey then goes back to the dump, which has been transformed into a popular nightclub called “The Dump”. Godfrey used the rest of the money from the stocks to build the club and hire all of the men who previously worked there; he also has plans to provide for homeless people during the winter. To his surprise, Godfrey realizes that Irene has followed him to the club, and is determined to marry him. Before Godfrey can form an objection, she pulls in a minister, and the two are married.
MY TAKE: The interesting thing about this movie, for me at least, is that it stars William Powell and Carole Lombard — who had been divorced for three years at the time the film was made (she later married Clark Gable). Apparently, they stayed very good friends, and Powell actually insisted that Lombard play the female lead. This may be the reason for the unique chemistry of their characters: Irene obviously believes she’s in love with Godfrey, but he kind of takes the attitude of an indulgent parent: he finds Irene’s antics amusing but childish. There really isn’t that much of a romance between them, which I think would have made the movie better. As it is, the ending is kind of abrupt, and Godfrey doesn’t seem to know what hit him. The rest of the movie is funny, especially the antics of the Bullock family (poor, suffering Mr. Bullock). I saw this movie once before, quite a while ago, but I don’t think I was surprised to find out that Godfrey is really a member of an upper-class family. He speaks really well, suggesting a good education, and he is an exceptional butler from the start — you can tell he already knows what to do. Another funny note: there’s actually an existing blooper reel for this film, which you can see on YouTube (where you can also see the entire movie). Apparently, Carole Lombard would start swearing when things got tense or frustrating on set, and you can see this in the blooper reel.