Bright Lights Film Journal

Hotter Younger Sister Thing #7: Gail Patrick as Cornelia Bullock in MY MAN GODFREY

I know Cornelia isn’t necessarily the “younger” sister in Gregory La Cava’s classic screwball comedy, MY MAN GODFREY (1936), but she was born three years earlier (than Lombard) and damn is she hot. Sometimes I lose days, weeks, of my life thinking about how hot she is, and what that means about me that I’m drawn to self-possessed sadists. Kim Morgan was the first to point out how much hotter GODFREY would be if William Powell went for cobra-like Cornelia instead of Irene. Somehow, that makes Patrick even hotter as she becomes free-associated with the seductive lure of Kim’s stomping ground, Hollywood. While Lombard’s blond “screwball” Irene is aggressive and “good”–but ditzy and omnipresent–Cornelia slinks to the side of the screen like a contented cat, luring and distracting, a femme fatale in search of a chump; her every appearance is marked by sinister apprehension, but the sort that carries a masochistic charge (as when she has Godfrey kneel before her to fix her shoe). Powell resists becoming the patsy, but does so without being rude or obvious, and so earns her respect.

There is a real unspoken chemistry between Godfrey and Cornelia that never gets to fully manifest because of Irene’s incessant cockblocking. They would be the more adult, sophisticated couple–the sort of couple Powell embodied with the uber-classy Kay Francis in JEWEL ROBBERY and ONE-WAY TICKET, while his Godfrey and ditsy Irene are more like a father and daughter.

This choice for the Hotter Younger Sister thing would be odd for that reason alone, until we remember that precociousness is the territory of the younger daughter, who wants to act older than she is, while the older daughter is still crying and stamping her feet, trying regain the complete parental attention she lost when her sibling was born.

Thanks also to Criterion for taking the time to remaster a public domain movie and doing such a good job that you can luxuriate in the silky folds of Cornelia’s sensual gowns.. (at right) And thanks to Kim Morgan, mon amor d’écriture.