Friday, January 19, 2007

MY MAN GODFREY (Universal 1936) Criterion Collection

Considering how truly awful director Gregory LaCava’s My Man Godfrey (1936) has looked in the past, Criterion's DVD must be commended for its resurrection of an almost lost cinematic masterpiece.

William Powell stars as Godfrey Smith – a forgotten man transformed at the insistence of madcap heiress, Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) into the perfect penguin – her witty butler. After being ‘discovered’ at a city dump near the water front, Godfrey is whisked by Irene to a catered affair in which the idle rich are gathering ‘lost’ items for a contest.

Irene’s lost item is a forgotten man. But Irene’s sister, Cornelia (Gail Patrick) is jealous of her sister’s find. After being cleaned up, Godfrey notices that Cornelia’s intentions toward him are not honorable. He deftly avoids creating scandal within the household though he increasingly finds himself drawn romantically to Irene.

Mischa Auer, Eugene Pallette and Alice Brady make up the rest of the screwball Bullock family – a cavalcade of crazies plucked from an insane asylum for the decadent and devil-may-care. When Alexander (Pallette) loses his family fortunes in the stock market crash, Godfrey reveals his true colors. He is not a forgotten man but a millionaire who has fallen on hard times. Though Godfrey is disgusted by the shallowness bred by personal wealth, he also realizes that some families like the Bullocks would not be able to survive without their money. Godfrey rescues his Alexander’s clan from poverty and wins the heart of his fair Irene.

Criterion's restoration efforts are a subtle step in the right direction. However, I would be interested in learning how much more can be done with the original film elements. For the record, My Man Godfrey still exhibits quite a soft picture with low contrast levels and an excessive amount of film grain during certain scenes. Contrast levels are very weak and there are certain scenes where the gray scale is reduced to a rather harsh black and white visual representation, with an understandable and considerable loss of fine detail in over all image clarity.

Still, the many rips, chips, tears and water damage that one was used to seeing on late night broadcasts of this film have all been tempered or all-together eliminated from this print. Many scenes on this transfer exhibit image quality that is quite satisfactory. The audio is mono but nicely restored. There are several glaring examples of pops and crackles heard, as well as a persistent strident characteristic throughout. But believe me when I say that My Man Godfrey - save its premiere, has never looked or sounded better for the home video market.

Now, for the gripes - Criterion can not convince this reviewer to justify paying their hefty price tag for only an audio commentary (one of the best and most engrossing I have ever heard) and the inclusion of the Lux Radio Broadcast of this movie. If the price of this disc dropped to around, say, twenty dollars, I'd recommend it without reserve. As it stands, only a die hard fan will invest in this disc - there's still much restoration work to be done and the extras, quite frankly, do not justify the price!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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