Best Supporting Actress of 1936 – Alice Brady (My Man Godfrey)

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.



Filed under 1936, Yearly Best Performances

5 responses to “Best Supporting Actress of 1936 – Alice Brady (My Man Godfrey)

  1. It’s a while since I’ve seen ‘Show Boat’, but I must say Helen Morgan’s performance is the one that sticks in my mind the most. I haven’t seen ‘My Man Godfrey’ as yet but have heard a lot of good things about it.

  2. Judy, I also love Morgan’s performance deeply, and she comes within a hair of copping the honors for this year. Again Jason has framed a performance with passion and authority, and his list of runners-up is impressive.

    My own choices:

    Beat Supporting Actress:

    Bonita Granville, THESE THREE


    Helen Morgan, SHOWBOAT
    Alice Brady, MY MAN GODFREY
    Hattie McDaniel, SHOWBOAT
    Yoko Umemura, SISTERS OF THE GION
    Simone Simon, GIRL’S DORMITORY
    Gale Sondergaard, ANTHONY ADVERSE
    Mary Astor, DODSWORTH
    Beulah Bondi, THE GORGEOUS HUSSY
    Elsa Lancaster, REMBRANDT
    Edna May Oliver, ROMEO AND JULIET
    Helen Broderick, SWING TIME
    Maria Ouspenskaya, DODSWORTH
    Suzy Prim, MAYERLING

    • Like most of those that don’t appear on my list, considered Bonita Granville (and Helen Morgan), but in the end wasn’t as impressed with them. They weren’t bad, not at all. They were fine, but didn’t stick out in my mind as well as the others. The only two I eventually eliminated after some internal debate and now think I may have been wrong are Mary Astor and Yoko Umemura. Astor was solid in “Dodsworth.” And Umemura’s performance is overshadowed by Mizoguchi’s careful direction. I often forget about performances in his movies because actors often seem like small parts of the world he creates, not really necessary to those around them. They can be dwarfed by his voyeuristic, long shots. But she does a wonderful job in “Sisters of the Gion.”

  3. Pingback: ‘Nowhere Boy,’ ‘Heist Festival’ and Ozu on Tuesday Morning Diary (October 12) « Wonders in the Dark

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