There's several different variations of comedy, yet there's only a few that seem to still be heavily active. The main leader in recent years is raunchy comedy, lead by filmmakers like the Farrelly Brothers, who at least usually find some inspired moments in the middle of their low-brow antics. The genre of verbal or slapstick comedy seems to be rarer and rarer lately, with directors like Woody Allen being one of the last remaining directors offering sharp, dialogue-based humor similar to the old-fashioned comedic gems.
"My Man Godfrey", a 1936 picture, is one of the many that Allen seemed to be inspired by for his most recent picture, "Curse of the Jade Scorpion". Yet, it seemed to only be Allen who was tuned in to the rhythms of the genre. This picture, directed by Gregory La Cava, zips through its brief running time on the strength of its verbal play - dialogue comes fast and furious; some of it even seems as if it was improvised.
Godfrey Parke(William Powell) is down on his luck. Pulled into the realm of high society by Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard), the newly appointed butler finds out that the Bullock household is "busier than Grand Central Station". They're all a bunch of eccentric folks with their own problems, but the film succeeds simply because it doesn't go over-the-top with the characters and again, the pace keeps things light and sharp. The performances are also extremely solid throughout - each of the actors and actresses demonstrate impressive comedic timing and rhythm. They know how to deliver a great piece of dialogue.
Also, aside from all of the wonderful elements of "My Man Godfrey", I still remain amazed by the beautiful opening credits, which are remarkably well-done and lively for the age.
VIDEO: "My Man Godfrey" is presented in the film's original 1.33:1 full_frame aspect ratio from Criterion. The results of Criterion's efforts here are generally quite remarkable, considering the film's age. The film's original negative has probably deteriorated or isn't in the best of shape at this point; a duplicate negative was used and transfered on a high-definition Spirit Datacine. Sharpness and detail do tend to vary a bit throughout the presentation - many brighter scenes do appear very nicely defined. Although some scenes did fall into a bit of softness, this certainly wasn't distracting, as the picture definitely never became hazy or blurry.
Considering the film was produced in 1936, I fully expected to see some wear during the picture and did. Yet, there are certain expectations for the amount of wear that one will run across depending on a film's age. "Godfrey" didn't present the amount of wear that I'd expected going in. Yes, there are some minor speckles and marks here and there during the picture, but I didn't feel that they appeared in any great number or caused much irritation. Many scenes appear grainy, but only mildly so, as grain never became heavy. A frame or two seemed to be missing now and then and some very light edge enhancement was also visible.
While not completely free of flaws now and then, considering that the film is 60+ years old, the presentation was better than I'd expected. A nice effort from Criterion, who has obviously tried their best here to put the film forward with the best possible presentation considering the elements they had to work with.
SOUND: The film's mono soundtrack was generally listenable, but doesn't fare as well as the film's image quality. Dialogue occasionally came across sounding rather strained and thin, as did the score. Yet, the audio certainly never became uncomfortable to listen to and some scenes sounded a bit better than others.
MENUS:: Criterion has prepared wonderful, animated opening main menus, based upon the opening credits. Simple, but terrific.
EXTRAS:: This Criterion edition provides some very enjoyable supplemental features, as the studio has always been creative in providing some entertaining and informative extras for films of wildly differing ages and genres. The lead-off supplement on the DVD is a newly recorded commentary track from film historian Robert Gilpin, who provides an intelligent and in-depth discussion of the characters, the time period and the genre. It's certainly apparent that Gilpin has come in well-prepared and, although it's apparent that he does have notes, the commentary seems natural and flows well, with only a few minor pauses (and most of the pauses seemed to be to let a specific scene play before or after he commented upon it).
Again, Criterion has always been known for scouring far and wide for film-related supplements that are special and often, rare. This is apparent in one of the disc's most impressive supplements, the Lux Radio Broadcast of "My Man Godfrey", which stars some of the film's actors and actresses. This is a valuable piece and Criterion has saved it for future generations by its inclusion here. Also included on the DVD are a few moments of newsreel footage of the day, some very funny and rare outtakes from the picture, a stills gallery and also, a trailer. Overall, a really fine effort to bring some wonderful additional material.
Final Thoughts: "My Man Godfrey" is a comedy classic, a highly enjoyable piece of work with terrific acting and hilarious, rapid-fire dialogue. Criterion's DVD presentation in terms of audio/video isn't without some minor flaws, but is certainly better than I'd expected for a picture from the 30's. Supplements, as with any Criterion Special Edition, are valuable pieces that offer entertainment and insight. Highly recommended.