My Man Godfrey (1936)

This classic screwball comedy, one of the definitive examples of the genre, was a product of inspired improvisation. Universal had bought Eric Hatch’s novel about a wealthy girl who falls for the homeless man she’s hired as her eccentric family’s butler as a vehicle for Constance Bennett or Miriam Hopkins. When director Gregory La Cava came on board he insisted on hiring William Powell for the leading role, and Powell insisted that only his ex-wife, Carole Lombard, could play the madcap heiress. To add to the magic, La Cava and screenwriter Morrie Ryskind preferred to finish their scripts on the set, working from the actors’ improvisations. As a result, the characters became a mirror image of Powell, Lombard and their brief marriage, creating an almost irresistible pairing. The film also features a dream supporting cast, with gravel-voiced Eugene Pallette as Lombard’s frustrated father, patrician Gail Patrick as her snooty sister, Alice Brady as her daffy mother and manically funny Mischa Auer as her protégé, who specializes in impersonating apes. Their work earned Oscar nominations in all four acting categories (for Powell, Lombard, Auer and Brady), with the film also capturing directing and writing nominations. It became the only one to capture nods in each of those categories without scoring a Best Picture nomination.

(d. Gregory La Cava, 110m, Digital)