Plot: Henry Kilbourne (Clarence Kolb) is the patriarch of quite an eclectic household, one that holds three colorful, mischievous children and his wife Emily (Billie Burke), as well as various others at various times. These various other residents are due to Emily’s habit of taking in downtrodden men who need a fresh start, so she lets them work around the house and tries to help turn their lives around. The latest intake was Ambrose, who has fled the Kilbourne home and taken all the silverware with him, but Emily just brushes it off and moves on. When a new hobo arrives at the door, the family’s butler refuses to even let him use the telephone, but once Emily sees him, she knows she has to lend a hand to a man in need. The man is tapped to replace Ambrose, but will things just turn out the same way as always with the new arrival?
Entertainment Value: Merrily We Live isn’t as high profile as some of its peers, but this is a fun, often wild screwball comedy that isn’t afraid to go for broke. The story will be familiar to those who watch a lot of screwball comedies, but the real draw is the humor and the performances. The ensemble cast is colorful and quite diverse in approach, so even the smaller roles are memorable and given a chance to shine. This is good since the movie weaves between threads often, so having a deep and gifted cast ensures all of those stories are fun to watch. I think the movie works best in the more screwball, manic style scenes, to the point that I wish it was even wilder at times, as some stretches are a little uninteresting. I appreciate the pace shifts to let the humor breathe and exposition unfold, but I still think the movie is a little slow in places and as such, the film is a little on the inconsistent side. Even so, there is much more that works here than not, so don’t let some pacing issues sidetrack you from seeing this one. Merrily We Live is well recommended for fans of screwball comedies, offbeat ensembles, and classic cinema in general.
This movie was nominated for five Oscars, including a well deserved nod for Billie Burke, who is the most memorable part of the picture. The cast here is impressive, as I mentioned before, so for Burke to earn the standout status was no small feat, but she is so much fun to watch. She brings such a charismatic, confused presence to Emily, so even when she is totally oblivious to the world around her, you can’t help but like her and be entertained. The movie is filled with colorful characters, but none are as hilarious or endearing as Burke’s Emily. Brian Aherne is quite good here as well, a nice contrast in personality to his love interest Constance Bennett, so the chemistry good and the romance thread works well enough. The banter between the two is immense fun and drives the romance, which has a cute competitive tilt involved. The cast also includes Patsy Kelly, Ann Dvorak, Alan Mowbray, Clarence Kolb, and Sidney Bracie, who is fun as a stifled butler.
The Disc: ClassicFlix offers a new restoration for Merrily We Live, which looks much cleaner and sharper than expected. The film was released in 1938, but shows little signs of age or wear, which is remarkable. The image yields terrific fine detail and a natural, film-like texture, with minimal softness evident. I found contrast to be spot on as well, so the black & white visuals really shine here. No supplements have been provided, but the transfer is certain to delight fans to no end.