William Powell and Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey.
Everett Collection

The comedies of the 1930s held people together in the darkest of days. But as we watch them today, what’s even more remarkable is how so many of them seem to be driven by a mysterious bristling energy, a force born, maybe, of a devotion to craftsmanship and a desire to delight. In Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey, one of the greatest romantic comedies in a decade full of terrific ones, Carole Lombard plays ditzy heiress Irene, who makes a down-on-his-luck “forgotten man,” William Powell’s Godfrey, an unwilling participant in a party game. She takes a liking to him and wrangles a job for him as her family’s butler. Then she falls in love with him—because who wouldn’t? Powell, among the slyest and most debonair comic actors of his generation, was a perfect match for Lombard, with her boomerang-on-a-zephyr timing. The two, in fact, had been previously married, though they’d divorced by the time My Man Godfrey was being cast. Powell wouldn’t accept the role unless Lombard starred opposite him, and the fun they had together onscreen is proof that friendship can outlive a marriage—and it’s also one of the reasons this film feels as effervescently fresh on the 10th viewing as it does on the first.

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