22 March 2006 | blanche-2
Brian Aherne is a hobo taken in by Billie Burke to be a family chauffeur in "Merrily We Live," also starring Constance Bennett, Alan Mowbray, Bonita Granville, Tom Brown, and Clarence Kolb. The film is basically the same story as "My Man Godfrey" but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's funnier, though "Godfrey" had the serious undertones (and William Powell) that this movie completely lacks. Unfortunately for "Merrily We Live," it came out at a time when the screwball comedy had had its day. It's so interesting now to see these true gems that suffered from bad timing. "Bringing Up Baby," regarded today as a classic, also suffered at the box office.
The family Aherne comes to work for is never boring. The matriarch, Emily (Billie Burke), is bonkers. She's constantly picking up hobos and hiring them. In the first scene, the last bum in residence has stolen all of the silverware so the family is using all kinds of devices as utensils in order to get through breakfast. The younger daughter Marian (Bonita Granville) spends most of her time fooling around with the chimes so that when the harried butler Grosvenor (Mowbray) tries to ring them, they fall apart. Grosvenor, by the way, keeps his bags packed and ready to go at all times and leaves in disgust at least once a day. When Marian isn't making Grosvenor's life miserable, she's hitting people up for money in exchange for information. Mr. Kilbourne (Kolb) drinks to escape. Jerry, the older daughter (Bennett, who is 19 years older than Granville) seems to be the one who keeps things together. Then she falls for Aherne.
The last scene in this film should be regarded as the ultimate in screwball. It's one of those things you laugh out loud at even when you're alone.
It was commented that Bennett was too old for the role - 34. She definitely was playing a woman in her twenties, but given that Burke was 53, Tom Brown (the son) was 25, and Granville was 15, the ages work out, and those age gaps exist in families. In those days, it was not uncommon, as in my own family, for a woman to have 9 pregnancies and only have three living children spread far apart. Bennett didn't have the best role but she was believable and beautiful. She was almost at the end of her "A" picture leads by 1938. Tom Brown doesn't have much to do but is very good. Mowbray is terrific, as is Kolb, as a man who knows more about what's going on than he pretends. Patsy Kelly plays one of the house staff, and she gives a stagy and loud performance. She's seen to better advantage elsewhere. Burke is a delightful dingbat. Granville is energetic bordering on hyper, as she always was, and she's perfect as the mischievous daughter.
Aherne is very handsome and makes not only a great hobo but a great butler. This was definitely one of his finest roles, and he handles it elegantly.
"Merrily We Live" is a real treat, another lost treasure of the '30s.