Sunday, December 4, 2022

Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne top the cast in "Merrily We Live"

Merrily We Live (1938) is an American screwball comedy directed by Norman Z. McLeod and starring Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne. The supporting cast includes Ann Dvorak, Bonita Granville, Billie Burke, Tom Brown, Alan Mowbray, Clarence Kolb, and Patsy Kelly.

Emily Kilbourne (Burke) has the annoying habit of taking in unfortunate and destitute men and training them to be the family Chauffeur. When her latest charge, Ambrose, leaves with the family silver, Emily declares never to take in any more “tramps.” While the family rejoices about this turnaround, writer Wade Rawlins (Aherne) arrives on the doorstep of the Kilbourne mansion asking to use their phone. Due to his shabby manner of dress, the butler Grosvenor (Mowbray), tries to chase him away. When Emily sees him, she once again goes soft and hires him as the new Chauffeur.

Emily’s eldest daughter Jerry (Bennett) tries to convince her mother to get rid of this latest tramp. Younger sister Marion (Granville) sides with Jerry against their mother but to no avail.

When Wade cleans himself up and puts on his chauffeur’s uniform, Jerry—and Marion—take notice. Through his charming personality and his good looks, Wade becomes an integral member of the Kilbourne household in spite of the family’s best efforts to give him the boot.

Will Wade’s true identity be revealed and will that change the way the Kilbourne family sees him?

Brian Aherne and Constance Bennett

Norman Z. McLeod (1898 – 1964) was an American film director, cartoonist, and writer. McLeod is best known for directing some of the most popular comedies from the 1930s including Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932) starring the Marx Brothers and, It’s a Gift (1934) starring W.C. Fields. In the 1940s, he directed the hit comedies The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and Paleface (1948) starring Bob Hope and Jane Russell. McLeod also directed Topper (1937) and Topper Takes a Trip (1938).

Constance Bennett (1904 – 1965) was an American stage, film, radio, and television actress, producer, and businesswoman. During the 1920s and 1930s, Bennett was a major star. In the early 1930s, she was the highest-paid woman in Hollywood. Early in her career, Bennett was famous for playing in melodramas, but later in her career, she made a successful transition to comedy in films like Topper (1937). Two of her most popular films are What Price Hollywood? (1932)—considered the unofficial first version of A Star is Born—Bed of Roses (1933), and Topper (1937). Actress Joan Bennett is Constance Bennett’s younger sister. Constance Bennett had a makeup and clothes line during the 1930s. Below is a short film makeup tutorial that was shown in movie theaters.

Brian Aherne (1902 – 1986) was an English stage, screen, radio, and television actor who enjoyed a long career in the United King and the United States. During the 1930s and early 1940s, he was a popular leading man starring opposite the likes of Madeleine Carroll, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, and Carole Lombard. He was Oscar-nominated for performance as Emperor Maximillian in Juarez (1939) co-starring Paul Muni, Bette Davis, and John Garfield. Other films include Vigil in the Night (1940), My Son, My Son! (1940), My Sister Eileen (1942), and First Comes Courage (1943). By the late-1940s, Aherne was playing supporting roles in films while still acting on the stage. During the 1950s, he appeared on television on shows like Robert Montgomery Presents (1953), the Colgate Comedy Hour, and General Electric Theater.  In 1960, he had a lead role on The Twilight Zone. He was married to actress Joan Fontaine (1939 – 1945).

Billie Burke, Constance Bennett, and Brian Aherne

Merrily We Live trivia

  • Constance Bennett, Alan Mowbray, and Billie Burke all worked with director Norman Z. McLeod’s Topper the year before.
  • This was Billie Burke’s only Oscar-nominated performance.
  • Ronald Colman was originally considered for the role of Wade Rawlins.
  • Bonita Granville as Marion, says “He’s no Robert Taylor!” to Billie Burke as her mother Mrs. Kilbourne. Burke co-starred with Robert Taylor in Society Doctor (1935).

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join the discussion on December 12, 2022, at 6 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion questions

  1. Often compared to  My Man Godfrey. Do you see the comparison? How are they similar? How are they different? Which is the better film in your estimation?
  2. What did you think of Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne? Was there chemistry between them? 
  3. The supporting cast is stocked with some legendary character actors. Did you have a favorite?
  4. Merrily We Live was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Song ("Merrily We Live"), Best Art Direction (Charles D. Hall), and Best Cinematography (Norbert Brodine). Although they were shut out, do you think they were deserved?
  5. The film was a huge box-office success. Do you think it ranks with some of the other screwball comedies of the era like The Awful Truth (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938)?

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