‘My Man Godfrey’ | Sunday Observer
Retro reviews: Cinema of yesteryear

‘My Man Godfrey’

6 December, 2020

The romantic comedy ‘My Man Godfrey’ directed by Henry Koster and released in 1957 unfolds an unusual and eccentric group of characters that weave a story that is humorous and endearing. British screen legend David Niven plays the lead role as Godfrey, who it so happens, claims his first name, surname and middle name all happen to be the same! Thus making him ‘Godfrey Godfrey Dodfrey’! June Allyson plays Irene Bullock, an heiress in a family of wealthy Americans who are locked in a curious mixed form of discontent and escapist elation.

The film begins on a rather high paced note as two cars race recklessly against each other on the road at night giving the impression that a hostile situation between the occupants may arise. One car is occupied by a young man and a young woman and a goat placed in the backseat.

The other, which is occupied by a young woman behind the wheel, claims that the goat is hers and yells and demands to the car with the two humans and barnyard animal to stop, as she pulls up beside them. The two women who are locked in a battle to possess the goat are two zany heiresses of the wealthy upper class. Cordelia and Irene Bullock, two sisters who are competing in a scavenger hunt which is part of the party revelry that is going on at their home.

Strange man

After Irene runs Cordelia off the road and the goat escapes, the search for the goat which runs along the beach, brings Irene into contact with a gruff looking man dressed in an impoverished manner.

She immediately takes to this strange man and the subsequent reaction of disapproval and repulsion by Cordelia and her male companion make the stranger reveal an inimical demeanour that intimidates Cordelia and the young man who then leave the scene.

Irene is overjoyed at how this stranger stood up to her sister, and she, thereafter, strikes a deal with him whom she believes through her instincts is a good and worthy person.

Irene offers ten dollars to Godfrey if he will come back with her to her home and agree to be one of the items she found on the scavenger hunt, since she can no longer find the goat! The offer is accepted and at the uproariously jubilant party underway at the elegant home of the Bullocks, Irene is declared the winner, as Godfrey, since he is a human, is accepted as an item that fits into the category of ‘animal’ which earns Irene over a hundred points.

Before he leaves the festivities with the money, which Irene insistently thrusts upon him, she persuades him to consider coming into the employ of the Bullock household as their butler as they are in need of one, and since Godfrey is unemployed and in need of money.

Order and sanity

The following morning Godfrey arrives at the residence attired in a traditional European butler’s outfit and is barely recognisable from the dishevelled grisly looking image he was the previous night.

The events that follow unfold a story that is laced with comedy sprouting from the absurdities and nonsensicalness that seems to be engrained in the Bullock household, into which Godfrey attempts to delicately introduce a sense of order and sanity!

Irene sees Godfrey as her friend and confidante in a household where she has no warmth and faced with sibling rivalry from Cordelia. Her intentions towards Godfrey become romantic, but Godfrey is clear that his sense of professionalism do not allow for boundaries to be crossed.

The events that unfold show that Godfrey is in fact from a well to do background from Europe and has influential connections, and not the destitute bum that he was thought to be initially by Irene.

The sibling rivalry culminates to a point where Cordeliatries to frame Godfrey of theft of her diamond bracelet and have him booted out of the house and that backfires which sees Godfrey not being found guilty of the crime and Cordelia’s shameful act being revealed.

When Godfrey gets to know that Alexander Bullock the master of the house is in a financially precarious situation and in need of half a million dollars to salvage his business, he puts in a word through his network to a large banker and gets the required loan amount approved, and proves to be the saviour of the Bullock family.


Godfrey thus becomes quite an enigma who becomes endeared to the Bullock family and thus almost indispensable from their lives. However, the hidden fact that Godfrey is actually an illegal immigrant in the US becomes an issue and, therefore, is deported in accordance with US law.

The Bullocks are, however, not willing to let Godfrey be sent away that easily as Alexander Bullock is willing to let Irene marry Godfrey so that he may stay on in the US legally.

However, the solid principles of Godfrey do not allow him to say yes to the proposition as it would make it all look debased as opportunism.

And what is then revealed is that Godfrey is in fact falling in love with Irene and doesn’t want to dishonour her by marrying her as though to seem merely to stay on in the US.

Relentless Irene who is not the type to give up without ‘giving it her all’ pursues Godfrey to the harbour where he embarks a ship and finally manages to get on board the vessel and convince Godfrey to consider marrying her once the ship has sailed out of US territorial waters.

They meet in a kiss that shows that the proposal was accepted and that Godfrey and Irene will build a future together.