MERRILY WE LIVE is a fine example of escapist Depression-era screwball comedy, featuring a silly rich family and their equally silly servants, against a backdrop of stunning sets and gorgeous gowns. The film, which bears more than a passing resemblance to MY MAN GODFREY, centers on the effect a mysterious new chauffeur (Brian Aherne) has on the wealthy Kilbourne family, particularly oldest daughter Geraldine (Constance Bennett).
Billie Burke was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the incomparably giddy Emily Kilbourne, and it's a dizzingly memorable performance. "Airheaded" doesn't begin to describe Emily, and Burke pulls off the role in grand style. It would be interesting to know how the real-life Burke compared with a role such as this!
The other actors are all fine, including Bonita Granville as the youngest Kilbourne, Marian, whose dogs are named Get Off the Rug and You Too. Alan Mowbray and Patsy Kelly portray the Kilbournes' long-suffering butler and cook.
The movie was a little light on the romantic angle -- it seemed as though Aherne actually spent more screen time with the Other Woman, Ann Dvorak, than Bennett -- but otherwise it's good fun.
The only clinker is a brief sequence near the end with Willie Best as a half-witted black man, which seems uncomfortably stereotypical to the modern viewer.
The movie runs 90 or 95 minutes, depending on the reference source, and was shot in black and white. The director, Norman Z. McLeod, started working on cartoons in the '20s. Over the course of his career he directed other light fare such as TOPPER, THE CANTERVILLE GHOST, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, and THE PALEFACE.
MERRILY WE LIVE is available on video, though it may be difficult to obtain.
It's also available on cable on Turner Classic Movies.