"I've lived by a man's code designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick." ~ Carole Lombard
"Marvelous girl. Crazy as a bedbug." ~ Howard Hawks
“With her, it was like music, it was completely natural.” ~ Clark Gable
Carole Lombard was not only one of the great beauties of Hollywood's Golden Age, but a top class comic actress. A wonderful combination of glamor, wit, brains and beauty, she was blonde dynamite in a petite 5' 2" package. Tragically killed in a plane crash at the age of 34, she might have left this world too early, but, by all accounts, she packed a whole lot of living in that brief span, and managed to star in a slew of films, too - several of them comic gems. In her filmography, 1936 stands out as a banner year, featuring one sizzling screwball (Love Before Breakfast), one fun, oddball comedy/mystery (The Princess Comes Across) and one out-and-out masterpiece (My Man Godfrey). In each of these, Lombard shows her impressive comic range, expert timing and facility with rapid-fire dialogue, and an ability to inhabit varied types of characters. She also displays terrific chemistry with her three leading men, suave fellows all: respectively, Preston Foster, Fred MacMurray and ex-husband Willlam Powell.
Love Before Breakfast
Don't weaken. Give her time. And be plenty tough with her.
Is that the way you handled the women you couldn't get?
Certainly. Whenever - let that pass, will you, please?
The always enjoyable Cesar Romero has some fun moments as Kay's supposed paramour, Bill, and Janet Beecher gets several good, droll lines as Kay's mother, who does what she can to steer her daughter in Scott's direction. The remainder of the supporting cast doesn't register much, though Richard Carle is amusing in the small part of Scott's friend and fellow boardmember, Brinkerhoff.
The Princess Comes Across
What is that?
Why it's one of those things, you know, one of those come-to-you go-from-you things.
A concertina. And very vulgar. A definite symbol of the lower classes. Put the thing on the floor and it crawls.
Hard-boiled ex-con turned concertina player-cum- bandleader King Mantell (Fred MacMurray) is displeased to give up the royal suite on the good ship Mammoth, especially to a snooty Swedish princess - that is, until he gets a gander at the blonde bombshell.
Princess Olga (Lombard) is actually a wannabe starlet from Brooklyn named Wanda who, together with her older confidante Lady Gertrude (Alison Skipworth), has devised a bold scheme to pass herself off as royalty and parlay this into a big studio contract. Mantell, with the aid of his cronie, Benton (the great William Frawley), tries his best to woo her, and just as Olga's icy demeanor is starting to thaw, things get even more complicated as a slimy blackmailer named Darcy (Porter Hall) ends up murdered in the Princess' stateroom.
Sig Ruman, Dumbrille, Auer and the others have some gentle fun at the expense of generic movie detective types (Auer gets the best lines of the group as the morose, chain-smoking Morevitch.) Best of all is Alison Skipworth as dowdy, redoubtable, acid-tongued Lady Gertrude, who quickly sizes up King Mantell with one gimlet eye and knows trouble is on the horizon: "My dear, I am an old woman. I have traveled at home and abroad, and never, never have I known any good to come out of a concertina."
Fans of classic Hollywood murder mysteries and mistaken-identity comedies should have a good time with this one.
My Man Godfrey
"Stand still, Godfrey. It'll all be over in a minute."
When kindhearted but space cadet socialite Irene Bullock (Lombard) "borrows" derelict "forgotten man" Godfrey (Powell) from the city dump in order to beat her snooty sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) in a scavenger hunt, she quickly takes a shine to him and brings him home to be the new butler for her wacky family household, which includes kooky, absentminded mother, Angelica (Alice Brady), long-suffering pop, Alexander (raspy, bullfrog voiced Pallette, wonderful as always), sarcastic maid, Molly (Jean Dixon) and hanger-on, sponging "protege," Carlo (Mischa Auer).
Despite the jealous, suspicious machinations of Cornelia, Godfrey proves a dab hand as "buttling," his innate dignity and intelligence weathering all storms, eventually putting the Bullock household in order and making all the young women living there - Irene, Cornelia and even hard-bitten Molly - fall hard for him.
Everyone here does excellent work, but this is Powell's movie through and through and he saunters off with it with that rare aplomb that was a signature of his star power. This is arguably Powell's best known film after The Thin Man and its sequels, and it clearly displays his very unique gifts. No one could do debonair and droll quite like William Powell, especially in the 30s. Unfortunately, Powell's star seems to have dimmed over time...perhaps his particular brand of sophisticated, urbane charm has become increasingly rare and less valued in our coarser modern age; a shame, as he was, and is, one-of-a-kind.
Also one-of-a-kind was Carole Lombard, who made another ten films after Godfrey, including another screwball classic, Nothing Sacred (with Frederic March), the melodrama Made for Each Other opposite Jimmy Stewart and her last film, To Be or Not to Be, a sharp satire of Nazi Germany with Jack Benny. Her marriage to "King of Hollywood" Clark Gable was sadly cut short after only a few years, by her premature death in 1942, leaving Gable and her legions of fans desolated. But the light of her talent shines on in these three films and the many others she graced us with in her short but prolific career. She remains one of those rare actresses who seemed even more interesting, likeable and funny in real life than on the silver screen.
For more on La Lombard, head on over to the always pictorially splendid Carole & Co.
DVD Note: Both Love Before Breakfast and The Princess Comes Across can be found on the 2-disc, 6-film Carole Lombard Glamour Collection (along with Hands Across the Table, We're Not Dressing, True Confessions and Man of the World). My Man Godfrey is available on numerous public domain DVD releases of dubious to so-so quality; the Criterion Collection put out a handsome - if expensive - edition in 2001, which remains the definitive release of this classic to date.