Other Noteworthy Performances: Elsa Lanchester (Rembrandt), Helen Westley (Show Boat), Gail Patrick (My Man Godfrey), Suzy Prim (Mayerling), Hattie McDaniel (Show Boat), Helen Broderick (Swing Time), Edna May Oliver (Romeo and Juliet), Beulah Bondi (The Gorgeous Hussy)
In My Man Godfrey Alice Brady accomplishes what any good supporting role is supposed to do: she constructed a believable world in which the main characters could operate and the plot could move along. This is no small feat for the wealthy but wacky Bullock family who hires “forgotten man” (i.e. bum) Godfrey Smith (William Powell) as their butler. We have to believe they are as crazy as they are written. Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), the long-suffering patriarch of the family, can’t just tell us Irene (Carole Lombard) rode a horse into the house; we have to believe it possible in their world.
Alice Brady’s scatterbrained matriarch not only makes everything believable, but she presents us with an explanation for Irene’s zaniness and Camilla’s childishness. Having Angelica Bullock as a mother would confuse anyone. After all, she’s hardly a mother at all and, we suspect, she never was one. She’s a nice enough person – there’s no malice or snobbiness evident in her – but her attention and interest rarely lasts a few minutes. Her mouth operates faster than her mouth, but her memory doesn’t work much at all.
I admire any actor who can deliver rapid-fire dialogue convincingly. Brady never falters, with her dialogue or her mannerisms. She is completely this good-hearted, but harebrained, society matron. She’s the kind of person who in the middle of a bridge hand unapologetically stops and asks what she bid. Five spade? Oh, no, she says, she meant five hearts. Woe to her partner.
The choice of Alice Brady as best supporting actress was fairly straightforward, though Elsa Lanchester in Rembrandt and Helen Westley in Show Boat were close runner ups. Brady, however, is more memorable. She doesn’t allow herself to be upstaged by an entire cast of superlative performances, from Carole Lombard and William Powell in the leads to great supporting turns by Eugene Pallette and Gail Patrick with a nice small comic performances by Mischa Auer and Jean Dixon. Brady steals just about every scene she’s in. Angelica Bullock would think she should be the star of any story about the Bullock family; Brady makes her, if not the star of the picture, at least the star of her scenes without overshadowing everyone else, and that is the definition of a truly great supporting performance.