I am a big fan of Hollywood comedy classics in the 30s and 40s, from masters like Lubitsch or Sturges; but with "Godfrey", which is obviously supposed to be good enough to merit a Criterion Collection issue, (at least) my first viewing failed to make me see what the big deal is. The story is along the feel-good social conscience line, and pretty lame for that. The characterization is quite poor, even from a 1930s comedy. Compare to, for instance, "Philadelphia Story", or "Arsenic and Old Lace". With all the latter films' extravagant caricatures and eccentricities, you still walk away feeling that you just witnessed drama among lively, albeit larger-than-life human beings, whom you cannot help liking, even though you may choose to poison their coffee if such encounters occur in your wake life.
Not here, my friend. To say that "My Man Godfrey" has a paper-board characterization is unfair to the paper boards, which do have very real dimensions, and some actual use. The mere pretense of a reason for Godfrey's behavior is hard to come by in this frothy little film, let alone the other, secondary characters. And even given what is suggested as explanation of what he chooses to do, we are then man-handled to change our minds a few times to accomodate the laziness or incompetence. I hate it when the screen writer cannot stick to a tall tale's level of consistency.
All this would have been laughed away if, well, we are offered enough laughs. Pleasures can still be had with clever and witty word plays, which, alas, is not forthcoming as one wished. The dialog can be funny at times, but the fire-cracker pace in the first 20 mins failed to prove sustainable. By the time Godfrey's cover is blown, one has to make do with tired jokes and re-hashed drollness, and the film loses momentum.
My advice is: don't bother; check out "Sullivan's Travel", instead, if you need your perfunctory "social conscience" fix, but want to wash it down with a lot of fun.