My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava / U.S., 1936):

"An empty room and the right kind of people" is the inmate’s definition of the asylum, a tour of the padded cells of the bourgeoisie is in order. The transition from the ritzy neon of the opening credits to an avalanche of Hooverville tin cans has the very quintessence of Hollywood artifice, William Powell in whiskers and rags is the quizzical vagabond Shaw wished he’d written about. The suave hobo is a key item in the scavenger hunt held by moneybag-ninnies, battling debutante sisters (Carole Lombard, Gail Patrick) shanghai him from the shantytown under the Brooklyn Bridge to the marble floors of Fifth Avenue and there he stays, the family’s new butler and "protégé." The first day of work finds the fluttery society matron (Alice Brady) surrounded by hangover pixies, the stout, harried patriarch (Eugene Pallette) doing a triple take at the horse in his library, and the mooching gigolo (Mischa Auer) leaping from couch to couch in a dutifully manic gorilla impression. "Do they go on this way all the time?" "Oh no! This is just a quiet evening." So it goes with Gregory La Cava’s warm and giddy carousel, a raucous burlesque with a beautiful still center, a lighter and tarter savior fable than Capra’s concurrent transmutations of the Gospels. When nitwits and sages try to make sense of the madness, the camera slows down and rests on the kitchen sink for lovely long takes of Powell and Lombard washing and drying dishes and passing from effervescence to melancholy. The "sedulous ape" of aestheticism, Guitry’s pearl necklace and Nabokov’s forgotten poet, the cold shower that’s really a declaration of love: Illumination and humility in the Depression, "one subpoena at a time." Powell’s shuffle of inebriation, Lombard spiraling gleefully in soaked satin, Pallette’s croaking timbre, these are a few of one’s favorite things. Pasolini in Teorema picks up the joke and runs it to its screwball limits. Cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff. With Jean Dixon, Alan Mowbray, Pat Flaherty, Robert Light, Franklin Pangborn, and Grady Sutton. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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