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Merrily We Live

Merrily We Live (1938) starring Constance Bennett, Brian Aherne, Billie Burke, Alan Mowbray

Synopsis

In Merrily We Live, the wealthy Kilbournes have just been robbed. Mrs. Kilbourne’s latest charity case, a tramp turned chauffeur, has just ran off with the silver. She swears that she’s done with rehabilitating tramps. But then she practically presses into service the first down on his luck soul she encounters, the handsome Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne). At first the family wants Rawlins gone before he has time to steal anything. But his character and charm are soon winning them over especially the eldest daughter Geraldine (Constance Bennett).

Review

Brian Aherne & Constance Bennett in Merrily We Live
Brian Aherne & Constance Bennett in Merrily We Live

In short, Merrily We Live is a fun, enjoyable, screwball romantic comedy. I found it very reminiscent of My Man Godfrey — with a twist.

In both movies, a seeming tramp is taken into a slightly screwball wealthy family, where he becomes a domestic servant. He goes on to become an integral part, and rescues the family. The twist is: in Merrily We Live, the “tramp” is in fact a successful author who’s had car trouble.

The youngest daughter soon develops a crush on the handsome “tramp”, while the older daughter resists. Before giving in. And the poor family butler fears that he’s in danger of being replaced, and so acts accordingly. Did I mention that the youngest daughter likes to pull pranks?

Alan Mowbray and Billie Burke in Merrily We Live
Alan Mowbray as the insecure butler and Billie Burke as the ditzy matriarch in Merrily We Live

On the night of an important dinner with a Senator, the youngest daughter “invites” him to join the dinner … And the Senator likes him, as does his lovely daughter. And the green-eyed monster of jealousy arrives.

To say more would be to spoil an enjoyable comedy. I will say that Merrily We Live won several Oscars, which it deserved. I enjoyed it, and hope that you do as well.

Cast of characters

  • Constance Bennett as Geraldine “Jerry” Kilbourne. The beautiful older daughter, who at first feuds with Rawlins. She distrusts him … Until he helps her sneak into the house in the middle of the night. A funny, screwball comedy scene that involves most of the house.
  • Brian Aherne as E. Wade Rawlins, the “tramp”. Actually a successful author who’s had car trouble. A nice, well-mannered fellow who goes along with Mrs. Kilbourne’s mistake out of a sense of fun. And soon starts falling in love with Jerry.
  • Alan Mowbray (Lured) as Grosvenor, the butler. The family butler, who feels insecure in his job after Rawlins’ arrival.
  • Billie Burke (The Young in Heart) as Emily Kilbourne. Billie Burke often played the scatterbrained, likable matriarch. But never better than here!
  • Patsy Kelly (The Gorilla) as Etta, the cook. A likeable member of the family staff. She helps Rawlins, and enjoys Grosvenor’s consternation.
  • Ann Dvorak (Three on a Match) as Minerva Harlan. The Senator’s beautiful daughter, who latches onto Rawlins as soon as she sees him. Which sparks Jerry’s jealousy.
  • Tom Brown (Buck Privates Come Home) as Kane Kilbourne. The family son, who feuds with Marion.
  • Clarence Kolb (His Girl Friday) as Henry Kilbourne. The head of the family – stern, serious, and all business. Except when he comes home blind drunk in the middle of the night. He needs Rawlins help to “quietly” get in the house. A funny, extended scene!
  • Bonita Granville (The People vs. Dr. Kildare) as Marion Kilbourne. The younger daughter, who develops a crush on the handsome Rawlins. But that doesn’t keep from from trying to get him in trouble at the dinner party later on.
  • Phillip Reed (Unknown Island) as Herbert Wheeler. Jerry’s would-be boyfriend who immediately dislikes Rawlins.

Editorial review of Merrily We Live courtesy of Amazon.com

The Kilbourne’s are a curious lot. Henry, the irascible patriarch, has his patience duly tried by his three impetuous and irreverent children: Geraldine (Jerry), Kane and Marion. Mother Emily rounds out the clan and may be the most endearingly peculiar of them all, as she doesn’t knit or collect stamps as a hobby, but instead takes in “Forgotten Men” intent on rehabilitating them.

However, after her latest protege makes off with the family silver, Emily swears off any do-gooding… that is until the vacationing Wade Rawlins shows up at her doorstep and is mistaken as a tramp. Becoming the family’s new chauffeur, Rawlins soon proves useful to the Kilbourne’s in more ways than one. He also quickly grabs the attention of nearly every female about him—especially and including Jerry’s.

Billie Burke is not only reunited in Merrily We Live with her Topper co-stars Constance Bennett (Jerry) and Alan Mowbray (Grosvenor, the Kilbourne’s long-suffering butler), but her performance as the delightfully daffy Emily also garnered her the only Academy Award nomination of her career (Best Supporting Actress). Joining the Topper trio is also a sublime cast including Brian Aherne, Clarence Kolb, Bonita Granville, Ann Dvorak, Tom Brown, Patsy Kelly and Willie Best.

A textbook example of screwball comedy, this Hal Roach production was directed by Norman Z. McLeod (Horse Feathers, Topper) and received five Oscar nods in all, including for Norbert Brodine’s sparkling cinematography and Charles D. Hall’s art direction.

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