Ok, so this isn’t really a case of “Original Vs. Remake,” but since the movies My Man Godfrey (1936) (MMG) and Merrily We Live (1938) (MWL) seemed fairly similar to me, I felt the need to compare the two, and let you know what I think about them. Of course, to simplify things, I’ll just borrow the plot descriptions from both of my reviews.
In My Man Godfrey, we find Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) and her sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick) competing against each other in a scavenger hunt for the social elite. They both come to the city dump, looking for a “forgotten man.” Cornelia, who is a spoiled brat, finds Godfrey (William Powell), and offers him five dollars to come with her, but he turns her down. Irene, who is a little more scatterbrained, but not quite so spoiled, realizes the idea is wrong, and Godfrey agrees to come with her to help her beat Cornelia. Afterwards, she hires Godfrey to be the family butler. The rest of the movie is about Godfrey as he works for the family, who are all a little screwy, except for the father, all the while Godfrey tries to keep his own background hidden while avoiding the affections of Irene, who falls for him.
In Merrily We Live, our story starts in the Kilbourne household, where their chauffeur has disappeared with the family silver. Emily Kilbourne (Billie Burke), the family matriarch, has had a history of hiring tramps, but after this betrayal, she decides to stop, to the happiness of the rest of the family. However, Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) comes to the door after the car he was driving goes off a cliff while he is trying to get some water. The butler tries to make him leave, but Emily sees him, and decides to hire him. His reception from the other members of the family is a little cool at first, but slowly, everyone warms up to him, with all the female members of the house (except for Emily) developing a crush on him, as he falls for eldest daughter Geraldine (Constance Bennett).
Both movies definitely seem to go off on similar trajectories. Both feature tramps being hired by rich families as servants. Both have several female members of the household that seem to fall for the “tramps.” The fathers are the ones who appear to be the most normal members of the household (although Mr. Kilbourne in MWL seems to have a slight lapse when he gets drunk). One shared actor is Alan Mowbray (Godfrey’s friend Tommy Gray in MMG and the butler Grosvenor in MWL). Also, from what I have heard, actress Constance Bennett was actually considered for the role of Irene in MMG, losing out to William Powell’s choice of Carole Lombard. Of course, one shared coincidence between the two movies is that the actresses portraying the family matriarchs (Alice Brady in MMG and Billie Burke in MWL) were both nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscars for their respective years (although neither won).
The differences in these movies are what everybody would most want to know about. When we first meet Godfrey, we can plainly see that he is a tramp, and we have little reason to doubt it. On the other hand, with Wade Rawlins (MWL) we really can’t say for certain that he is, just that he is wearing some old clothes and hasn’t shaved recently. Godfrey appears to be sane, and questions what is going on in the household, whereas Wade Rawlins appears to almost fit right in with the family. There is some element of timing at play as well, as the Bullocks (MMG), rich though they are, still can feel the effects of the Depression, as Mr. Bullock is constantly trying to remind everybody, while the Kilbournes (MWL) don’t seem to have any troubles with it.
The ultimate question here, which is the better movie? I myself believe them both to be wonderful movies. The main difference seems to be in the tone of the movies, as My Man Godfrey seems to be a mixture of comedy thrown in with some serious moments, as we all stop to think about the effect of the Depression, while Merrily We Live seems to keep seriousness at bay, with comedy constantly at the forefront. Due to this, most people would say that My Man Godfrey is the better movie. I myself would have to give a slight edge to Merrily We Live. I prefer the constant comedy, but it also may depend on mood. Either way, I highly recommend both movies if you get the chance to see them, they are both just that good!
My Man Godfrey
Film Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
Merrily We Live
Film Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
The Winner (in my opinion): Merrily We Live (By a VERY slim margin)