Merrily We Live

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Merrily We Live
Merrily We Live poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Screenplay byEddie Moran
Jack Jevne
Ed Sullivan (add'l dialog)
Based onThe Dark Chapter
1924 novel
by E.J. Rath
Courtenay Savage (play adaptation, They All Want Something)
Produced by Hal Roach
Milton H. Bren
Starring Constance Bennett
Brian Aherne
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Edited byWilliam H. Terhune
Music by Marvin Hatley
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • February 8, 1938 (1938-02-08)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States

Merrily We Live is a 1938 comedy film directed by Norman Z. McLeod and written by Eddie Moran and Jack Jevne. It stars Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne and features Ann Dvorak, Bonita Granville, Billie Burke, Tom Brown, Alan Mowbray, Clarence Kolb, and Patsy Kelly. The film was produced by Hal Roach for Hal Roach Studios, and was distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.


While based on a reworking of the 1930 movie What a Man itself based on the 1924 novel The Dark Chapter: A Comedy of Class Distinctions by E.J. Rath, and its 1926 Broadway adaptation They All Want Something by Courtenay Savage a number of critics find the plot of the film is similar to the 1936 film My Man Godfrey . [1] [2]

Merrily We Live was extremely successful and garnered five Oscar nominations.


Grosvenor (Alan Mowbray), the Kilbournes' butler, discovers at breakfast that the family silver has been stolen by the latest tramp, Ambrose, whom Emily Kilbourne (Billie Burke) had taken under her wing as the family chauffeur, in her obsession to reform fallen and destitute men, much to the exasperation of the rest of the family. A distressed Emily swears off taking in any more tramps, to the delight of the rest of the family. However, later in the morning, Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) appears at the Kilbourne's doorstep. His ramshackle car had broken down; when he got out, it rolled off a cliff. He wants to use the telephone, but is instead immediately adopted by Emily Kilbourne and appointed as the replacement chauffeur, despite the rude efforts of Grosvenor and Emily's daughters Geraldine "Jerry" (Constance Bennett) and Marion (Bonita Granville). Further attempts to convince Mrs. Kilbourne to get rid of this latest tramp are blissfully ignored.

Rawlins, as the new chauffeur is housed in the servant's quarters. He is overheard talking to himself while cleaning up by Grosvenor and suspected to be crazy. Jerry and Marion see the spruced up tramp looking the perfect gentleman and Jerry approves when Rawlins later brushes off Jerry's arrogant would-be suitor, Herbert Wheeler (Phillip Reed). They now have second thoughts when their father, Henry Kilbourne (Clarence Kolb), who has returned from work, tells Emily that he is putting his foot down and orders that they get rid of her latest tramp the next day.

A comedy of errors, nighttime interludes with drunken family behavior, the arrogant Herbert making a move on Jerry, follows with the rescue of the damsel in distress who has also somehow misplaced her keys where some delightful flirting ensues, resulting in Jerry falling in love with Wade. Marion also expresses a crush on Wade. The next day, Emily Kilbourne, despite orders to get rid of Wade, trains him to be a footman at the important dinner party that evening for Senator Harlan (Paul Everton). That evening, through a contrived prank by Marion, Rawlins is accidentally invited to the important dinner party for Senator Harlan, who takes quite a liking to him, as does his daughter Minerva (Ann Dvorak).

The next morning, the family finds Rawlins occupying the guest room. It is impossible to throw him out, as it is discovered that he is now a confidant of Senator Harlan and his daughter's target of affection. Jerry is consumed with jealousy, as she sees Minerva flirting with Rawlins at golf later that morning. After a fudge-making spat with Jerry, Rawlins takes the rest of the day off on an errand. The car he wrecked turns out to be a loan. He goes to pay for it, but the car has been found and the police inform the car's owner that Rawlins is assumed to be dead. The man leaves to identify his car. Thus, when Rawlins arrives, the owner's assistant George (Willie Best) thinks he is a ghost. The Kilbournes believe Rawlins has left for good, much to Jerry's dismay after waiting up to reconcile with him.

The next morning at breakfast, the newspaper reports the death of E. Wade Rawlins, the "noted novelist", from a car crash, much to the shock and dismay of the family, the cook and the maid. When Rawlins reappears, very much alive, utter pandemonium ensues as much of the family assume they are seeing a ghost. Once the confusion dies down the truth becomes clear & Jerry is immensely relieved.


Cast notes


Merrily We Live was in production from October 27, 1937, to January 10, 1938. Some location filming took place at Arrowhead Hot Spring and Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California. [3] [4]

Titles that were considered for the film included "Take It Easy," "Love Without Reason", and "Dark Chapter", which is the title of the E.J. Rath book the film is in part based on although neither Rath's novel nor Courtenay Savage's play are credited. [3]

Noted Broadway columnist Ed Sullivan provided additional dialogue for the film, his first assignment for Hal Roach Studios.

Awards and honors

Merrily We Live received five Academy Award nominations in total: Best Supporting Actress (Billie Burke), Best Sound Recording (Elmer Raguse), Best Song ("Merrily We Live"), Best Art Direction (Charles D. Hall), and Best Cinematography (Norbert Brodine). [5] [6] Billie Burke's Best Supporting Actress nomination was the only Oscar nomination of her career.


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  1. Frank Nugent (March 18, 1938). "Godfrey's Ghost Haunts 'Merrily We Live,' at the Capitol". The New York Times .
  2. Hal Erickson. "Merrily We Live Plot Synopsis". AllMovie . Retrieved October 22, 2021., "a blatant copy of My Man Godfrey"
  3. 1 2 3 TCM Notes
  4. IMDB Filming locations
  5. "The 11th Academy Awards (1939) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  6. "NY Times: Merrily We Live". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . Archived from the original on October 14, 2008. Retrieved December 12, 2008.