My Man Godfrey (MRA) (1936) (NTSC)
|Year Of Production||1936|
|Running Time||9:02 (Case: 93)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Gregory La Cava|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
This film was made in 1936, near the end of the Great Depression. It begins with repeated references to the term "forgotten man", a term that I did not realise (at first) had a special meaning at that time in history. Back then, a "forgotten man" was someone who had lost their job, couldn't get a job, had no home, and was scraping a living by foraging through rubbish bins. Today we might talk of a "homeless person", although the circumstances are not the same.
The story opens at night at a rubbish dump, where a number of men are living. Three society types show up, and try to beguile a man into accompanying them to the Waldorf Ritz — they are on a scavenger hunt, and need a "forgotten man" to complete their set. Although the man, Godfrey (William Powell), is unimpressed by the approach made by Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick), he acquiesces to the importuning of the second woman, Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard). At the Waldorf Ritz Irene wins the prize, but is then somewhat surprised when he turns on the crowd and describes them as "empty-headed nitwits" (it's hard not to agree!). In a fit of enthusiasm she decides to employ him as the family's butler, given that the position is vacant.
The position of butler in the Bullock household is frequently vacant — the housemaid, Molly (Jean Dixon) explains why, when Godfrey shows up for his first day on the job. Mr Bullock (Eugene Pallette) is sensible enough, but his wife, Angelica (Alice Brady), and the two daughters (who we met at the dump), are wilful, somewhat scatter-brained, and generally perfect examples of the idle rich. Nonetheless, Godfrey is determined to make a go of this, and it is interesting to watch what happens.
This film is regarded by many as the epitome of the screwball comedy, even more so than It Happened One Night. Even today, close to seventy years after it was made, it's entertaining. Well worth a look, but not at this copy...
If you cannot play NTSC DVDs on your system, stop reading. Both this DVD, and the one I intend to recommend in its stead, are NTSC, even though there is no mention on the cover of this disc that this is the case.
This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is consequently not 16x9 enhanced. Given that this film was made in 1936, its original aspect ratio would have been the Academy ratio of 1.37:1, so this is perfectly acceptable.
The image is soft, grainy, and often displays visible line structure (it looks like it's being displayed on cheesecloth). Shadow detail is very limited, with tones dropping off into black whenever they get half a chance. At least it's a good solid black — there's no low-level noise (surprisingly). Brightness varies somewhat.
Colour? Nope: this is a black-and-white film. There's a limited range of shades of grey on display, yet they manage to go from solid black through to a far too bright white (see 24:14 for a glowing white shirt collar).
There isn't a single frame that doesn't display film artefacts. There are spots, blots, scratches (horizontal as well as vertical), blotches, and, for their piece de resistance, two ugly film splices set about a fifth of the way down the frame, at 40:36 and 78:49. There are even reel change markings (although they are mostly out-of-frame). There are a couple of bounces, too, suggesting sprocket hole damage. Clearly absolutely no restoration has been done.
There's some aliasing, but nothing much else in the way of film to video damage. There are no MPEG artefacts.
There are no subtitles.
The disc is single-sided and single layered. No surprise there.
The soundtrack is only provided in English. It is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, at the surprisingly high 384 kbps — I'm guessing they didn't want to take any chance of our missing out on any of the low fidelity artefacts (including hiss, hum, crackle, and distortion on peaks). This soundtrack sounds like it was recorded over a telephone. It's at quite a low level, too — I had to raise the volume 10dB before I could make out the words clearly enough.
The dialogue is easy enough to understand once the volume is raised, with no obvious audio sync problems.
The score is adequate to the task — it's not credited to anyone (the only music credit is for Charles Previn as musical director) — but it is somewhat distorted in the soundtrack.
The surrounds and subwoofer are completely unused by this soundtrack.
|Surround Channel Use|
The menu is static and silent — it offers Play Movie and Chapters. There are eight chapter stops (far too few), on two pages. Be excited — that's as close as this disc gets to an extra.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 DVD of this movie is part of the Criterion Collection, and it's a good example of the Criterion Collection, with some useful extras, carefully gathered. The transfer is new, and has been beautifully restored. It's a pleasure to watch. And Region 4 gets, umm, this object. I have rarely been presented with a greater contrast. Both versions are DVDs; both contain a black-and-white movie, in an NTSC transfer. It is the same movie (after a fashion). I think that's where the similarities end, and the contrasts begin...
The Region 4 version is missing:
The Criterion version is missing:
The Criterion disc features clean clear video that's easy on the eyes, and a soundtrack that does justice to the film. Oh, the sound will never qualify as hi-fi, but that's to be expected in a film this old. At least the sound is free of the hum and crackle that plagues the R4 transfer. The commentary is not awe-inspiring, because Bob Gilpin's presentation skills could do with some work — his voice is stilted, but he has a lot to say, and it's interesting stuff. The newsreel footage is grim, showing what it was like to be a real "forgotten man". The Lux Radio Theater presentation is a cute bonus, giving another version of the story, as it was broadcast on radio in 1938 (2 years after the movie's release); the programme is even more interesting because it includes the complete opening (Lux soap flakes and all) — interestingly, it is introduced by Cecil B de Mille.
The Criterion Collection disc is recommended.
A movie that has been described as the quintessential screwball comedy, given a dreadful presentation on DVD. Such a shame, given that the Criterion Collection has made a superb disc of the film. Fortunately, we can play the Criterion version here because it is coded for all regions...
The video quality is horrible.
The audio quality is quite poor.
There are no extras at all.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Front Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5|