Sep 17, 2019

On Blu-ray: Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne in Merrily We Live (1938)

The lightly silly screwball comedy Merrily We Live (1938) was a pleasant revelation for me. Set in the world of the super wealthy, it centers on a family that lives in chaos, much like the brood in My Man Godfrey (1936). While this Hal Roach production isn’t quite as witty as Godfrey, it’s buoyed by high energy, an appealing cast, and slickly-executed physical humor.

Eerily slim-waisted Constance Bennett is Jerry Kilbourne, a gorgeous socialite who lives a life of luxurious aimlessness with her restless siblings (Bonita Granville and Tom Brown), an increasingly fed up father (Clarence Kolb), and her kooky hobo-collecting mother (Billie Burke). They are surrounded by unruly pets: among them birds wiggling on perches and enormous dogs who have clearly flunked obedience school, who add to the general feeling of pandemonium.

Mama Kilbourne’s penchant for taking in homeless men has once again ended in disaster as the flustered butler (Alan Mowbray) discovers the empty silver drawer and must improvise eating implements for breakfast with the less bothered house maid (Patsy Kelly). Though Mrs. K claims to swear off her do-gooding, the next handsome stranger who shows up at the door is given a warm welcome as if not a spoon has been filched. That stranger is Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) who is not homeless, but unlucky. Jerry takes a liking to Wade, which is understandable given the mind-numbing dullness of her society boyfriend. A chaotic household becomes increasingly wilder in the process.

While a few of the set pieces in Merrily We Live drag, this is for the most part a consistently fun flick. Aherne is a bit out of his depth as a comic, but he dives into the action with great enthusiasm and pulls off a lightly amusing performance. The rest of the cast moves with delirious comic momentum, fully committed to the lunacy of it all. Burke steals all of her scenes with that familiar fairy-like fluttering, but Bennett keeps pace with her movie mama, demonstrating a comic talent a bit more smoothly elegant than some of her more screwball peers.

Being in the world of the Kilbournes was good fun. This one is worth revisiting.

Merrily We Live is now available on Blu-ray. Many thanks to ClassicFlix for providing a copy of the film for review.

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