In many ways, Merrily We Live (1938) is the neglected, younger brother of My Man Godfrey (1936). See if you can spot the similarities:
The Kilbournes, in particular Mrs Kilbourne (Billie Burke in her only Oscar-nominated performance), have a habit of hiring ‘tramps’ as servants, much to the annoyance of Mr Kilbourne (Clarence Kolb), their children Jerry (Constance Bennett), Marion (Bonita Granville) and Kane (Tom Brown), and Grosvenor (Alan Mowbray), the long-suffering butler who threatens to leave every day. One day, when Rawlins (Brian Aherne) arrives at their house to use their phone after his car rolls down a cliff (yes), they mistake him for a tramp and he is immediately ‘hired’ as their chauffeur.
Directed by Norman Z. McLeon, Merrily We Live is as wacky as it gets, endlessly delightful and absolutely hilarious. And, in my opinion, it deserves to be a lot more famous than it is. I suppose it has been kind of over-shadowed by My Man Godfrey, but it really shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, a double bill with those two would be marvellous! Although it should be said that this isn’t really a remake or anything, as some people seem to think. According to IMDb, it’s actually a remake of What a Man (1930), which was based on the book The Dark Chapter by E.J. Rath and its Broadway adaptation They All Want Something by Courtenay Savage. However, comparisons to My Man Godfrey are inevitable, plot-wise and character-wise.
Like with any screwball comedy, there is as much reliance on one-liners as there is on physical comedy, and the balance between the two is wonderful. Brian Aherne is at the center of it all, and he delivers a sophisticated, understatedly funny performance. In fact, every performance in Merrily We Live is on point. Oh and did I mention the pets?? Oh my, there are so many pets in this movie. Two dogs (with the most original names ever), a bunny, two goldfish and a parrot. As a dog lover, I loved those adorable dogs! They’re everywhere! They eat with the family, they jump on the sofas and through windows and they cause as much havoc as everybody else. Ah, where would screwball comedies be without their pets?