More on My Man Godfrey

Norman N. Holland

    Irene tells Godfrey, when he first brings her breakfast, “You're the cutest thing I've ever seen,” and “thing” suggests to me she has a lot yet to learn about humans being human. She decides to take him on as her protegé (like Mother and Carlo, she brightly says) and concludes, “You're my responsibility.” Dippily as she may interpret that phrase, it shows the beginning of wisdom. Nevertheless she goes wackily on as she tries to woo Godfrey, weeping and mooning about (“Pose #8,” Cornelia calls it), even getting engaged to make him jealous. She never changes, though, from a creature of generous impulses (while Cornelia repents her meanness at the end).

    Once Irene’s crush on Godfrey has become clear, a rich friend of the Bullocks turns up, Tommy Gray (Alan Mowbray). We learn from him that Godfrey is really the scion of the wealthy, aristocratic Parkes of Boston. His residence in the city dump in New York came about, not because of economics, but because of a different kind of “depression.” An unhappy love affair plunged him into drink and suicidal despair. He snapped out of it when he saw the fighting spirit of the forgotten men, and he decided to share their lot. Now, returning to the dump, he plots something economic with wealthy Tommy.

    As the romantic plot continues, Cornelia is still seeking revenge for the ashpile but perhaps she is also in love with Godfrey herself. Certainly she wishes to spoil Irene’s chances. She hides a bracelet in Godfrey’s room and tries to get him arrested for stealing it. He foils her. Then, after further futile pursuit by Irene, a despairing Mr. Bullock announces financial ruin, but no—Godfrey saves the day. He and Tommy Gray have invested the “stolen” bracelet not only to recoup the Bullocks' stockholdings but also to create jobs for the men with whom Godfrey shared poverty. He has converted their old garbage heap into a stylish nightclub, The Dump, which they all run. Thus endeth the economic plot, and again, Irene comes to the dump, now The Dump, and scoops Godfrey up into matrimony. Thus endeth the romantic plot. In the usual Hollywood stereotype, only men participate in the economic plot. The romantic plot completely preoccupies the women while the men focus on entrepreneurship.

    Cornelia apparently comes to desire Godfrey as Irene does, although he, suffering from a broken heart because of a previous woman's dumping him, has sworn off love. He was “thrown away” in a personal, even more than an economic, sense. In a curious touch, Cornelia, tries to frustrate Irene by seducing Godfrey. She promises to meet him “around the corner,” where waits, I suppose, the Republican illusion of Prosperity. By contrast, the happiness Irene promises is no illusion. She grabs Godfrey from The Dump at the end, as she did at the beginning. She simply sweeps a completely passive Godfrey into marriage by her own impulsiveness, thus precisely reversing his earlier being thrown away, just as the cars pulling up in front of The Dump at the end of the film reverse the cars pulling up before the dump at the beginning. Back to main text..

Godfrey saves the Bullocks
Godfrey creates a nightclub