Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Merrily We Go to Hell

During last autumn's Women Make Film series on TCM, they unsurprisingly included Dorothy Arzner, one of the few women directing movies in the golden age of the Hollywood studio system. The film TCM selected, Merrily We Go to Hell, was recently released on DVD courtesy of Criterion, so I sat down to watch it and do a review.

Sylvia Sydney plays Joan Prentice, daughter of a canned-foods magnate (George Irving) who, at the start of the movie, is a guest at a penthouse party in Chicago. Also at the party is newspaperman Jerry Corbett (Fredric March) who, like a lot of newspapermen in the movies, is cynical and a heavy drinker. Jerry hits Joan with an elastic band, which leads the two of them to talk, and Joan to invite Jerry to her house the next day for a party.

Jerry shows up, eventually, being late in no small part because of that drinking. But still, for some reason, Joan falls in love with Jerry, while Dad tries to disabuse Joan of any notions of romance. He also tries to disabuse Jerry, to the point that when he's proposed to Joan her dad offers Jerry a large sum to break off the engagement. But Jerry says he's going to marry Joan and live on his money, not her father's. Of course, he can barely bother to show up to the engagement party, having passed out drunk on the way when his friend and drinking buddy Buck (Skeets Gallagher) tries to bring him. And at the wedding, Jerry has lost the wedding ring. Talk about an auspicious marriage.

Jerry decides that he's going to right the Great American Play, although it's not clear if he'd ever tried to write any stage work before getting married. He's a journalist, you see, so he should be able to write anything. Unsurprisingly, success doesn't come at first, until just as he's about to give up and a telegram comes from New York saying the play can be produced if Jerry comes to New York to make changes.

Those changes are because the lead actress, Claire Hempstead (Adrianne Allen), demands them, and it seems she's had a past with Jerry. Jerry, for his part, has gotten on the wagon to try to get this play produced. But having Claire around is enough to drive any man to drink, especially considering she seems determined to drive a wedge between Jerry and Joan. Joan decides she too might think about stepping out. Only after she finally leaves Jerry to return home to Dad do we learn that she's gotten pregnant, too.

Merrily We Go to Hell is interesting if predictable, helped out by being a pre-Code movie and two good performances from Sidney and March. Cary Grant shows up ninth-billed in a small performance, but that voice is still instantly recognizable.

There are other pre-Codes that I'd recommend first, but Merrily We Go to Hell is definitely worth a watch.

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