Sunday, September 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Merrily We Live (1938) - A ClassicFlix Blu-ray Review

The delightful screwball comedy MERRILY WE LIVE (1938) was recently released in a restored Blu-ray edition by ClassicFlix.

MERRILY WE LIVE received multiple Oscar nominations yet today doesn't seem to be as well known as other classic screwball comedies. I first reviewed the movie here back in 2007. Over the years I've seen it a couple more times, and each time I've enjoyed it more. It's great fun spending time with this cast at their zany best.

Wealthy Mrs. Emily Kilbourne (Billie Burke) has hired a succession of tramps as household servants. They have a way of running off with the family silver, but when another supposed "tramp" shows up on her doorstep she can't resist hiring him. Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) isn't actually a tramp at all, he's a writer who's the victim of car trouble, but he soon finds himself acting as the family chauffeur because why not?

The family also includes perenially exasperated Mr. Kilbourne (Clarence Kolb), son Kane (Tom Brown), daughter Marian (Bonita Granville), and oldest daughter Gerry (Constance Bennett); the equally off kilter family servants include Alan Mowbray as the butler (who constantly threatens to quit!) and Patsy Kelly as the cook with a crush on Rawlins.

There's an immediate spark of attraction between Wade and Gerry which only grows over time, and all manner of funny incidents along the way. Although the script isn't perfect -- among other things, the romance could have used fleshing out -- the entire cast brings their "A" game.

Burke, in fact, was Oscar nominated as Best Supporting Actress, a relatively rare example of a comedic performance receiving its due from the Academy. She's brilliantly daffy; the scene where she dithers over her fish bowl, concerned her fish has pretended not to recognize her, is an absolute riot, as is the scene where she attempts to train Rawlins to serve dinner. I never fail to wonder what anyone that convincing in playing such a giddy role was actually like in real life!

This is a very likeable film with many funny bits, such as Marian's dogs being named Get Off the Rug and You Too. I also love the breakfast sequence where the family makes do with unusual utensils since the last hobo stole the silverware. The slapstick finale, with multiple characters sliding to the ground, is the perfect nutty ending to a fun film.

It's also worth noting that the sets are fantastic; the kitchen area, complete with servants' dining room, is gorgeous, and there's a very funny sequence when the drunken Kolb staggers up the circular staircase and then back down the other side, a case of good set design contributing to how well a film plays. And take a good long look at the amazing Art Deco bar!

I was curious about the golf course seen in the film; according to IMDb, the sequence was filmed at Riviera Country Club.

MERRILY WE LIVE was produced by Hal Roach and directed by Norman Z. McLeod. It was filmed in black and white by Oscar-nominated Norbert Brodine. The supporting cast also includes Ann Dvorak, Marjorie Rambeau, Phillip Reed, Paul Everton, and Willie Best. The running time is 95 minutes.

This is another excellent release from ClassicFlix; the Blu-ray is a terrific print. It comes in an attractive case which includes a photo spread of two black and white stills from the film on the interior. There are no extras.

MERRILY WE LIVE is also available from ClassicFlix on DVD.

Thanks to ClassicFlix for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

You know your stuff when it comes to comedy. So glad this movie has been polished up and released shiny new to a waiting public.

PS: Did anyone ever suffer so from an eccentric family or take as man pratfalls as Clarence Kolb in this picture?

4:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kolb sure had to put up with a lot! LOL. He has such a great drunk scene. Wonderful physical comedy.

I was discussing with someone on Twitter today that the film seems to have been somewhat inspired by MY MAN GODFREY (1936), with a mysterious new servant impacting a nutty family, but as much as I love GODFREY, one thing this film has going for it is that I think (despite Kolb being driven up the wall!) the family is happier, which in some ways makes it a little more of a relaxing watch. There are some strong dramatic undercurrents in GODFREY, while this film is more happy-go-lucky, as reflected by the title. Interesting to contemplate.

Best wishes,

10:50 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

I’m not normally a screwball comedy fan—I find most of the characters more annoying than likable—but I’d give this one a try based on your recommendation. I just wish ClassicFlix would rent their own movies to those of us who are still a part of their service.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Seth,

I'd be very curious if this one wins you over! Good fun, a nice mix of good dialogue with some excellent physical comedy.

I'd guess ClassicFlix is hoping for some financial support in order to keep the releases going -- they're sure doing a good job on them. I have some others I purchased a few months ago I'm hoping to get to before long --

Best wishes,

10:41 PM  

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