Emily Kilbourne (Billie Burke) is a society lady with a spirited family. The Kilbournes have a lot of fun together, but one thing threatens to come between them: Emily’s penchant for taking in drifters and ex-cons to work on the house staff.
Just after having the family’s silver stolen by the latest of Emily’s “adoptees,” a man named Rawlins (Brian Aherne) shows up at the Kilbourne home asking to use their telephone after running into some car trouble.
Emily, assuming the man is a tramp, quickly decides to take him in and hire him as a chauffeur. Naturally, Emily’s family is none too happy about her decision, particularly oldest daughter Geraldine (Constance Bennett).
But will Geraldine’s mind be changed as she gets to know Rawlins?
Merrily We Live was directed by Norman Z. McLeod, from a screenplay by Eddie Moran and Jack Jevne.
The Kilbourne home brings a frenzied atmosphere to the screen, between the thefts, the pets (including birds, rabbits, and dogs!), and the outspoken family members themselves.
Alongside Emily and Geraldine there are rambunctious younger daughter Marian (Bonita Granville), son Kane (Tom Brown), and the patriarch (Clarence Kolb). Heading up the house staff is Grosvenor (Alan Mowbray), the butler.
This cast is plenty of fun to watch, portraying the gaggle of quirky characters. The film is driven by its characters and wit, keeping it quite enjoyable despite its resemblance to so many other films (including, perhaps most notably, My Man Godfrey).
Much of the film’s appeal, of course, comes from its romance between Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne. Constance brings a lot of sass to the film, and the chemistry between she and Aherne is great. It’s one of those ever-enjoyable love-hate relationships, beginning with disdain but growing into love.
There’s an opportunity for the film to go deeper in its exploration of the “tramp” stereotype — a dinner party scene in which Rawlins begins to debate a wealthy guest about the causes of vagrancy. But, the family cuts him off in order to hide from their guests the fact that Rawlins is not a fellow guest, keeping the mood of both the party and the film light and humorous.
Promotional materials claimed that Merrily We Lived topped Topper. I wouldn’t go that far, as Topper is one of my very favorite comedies, but Merrily We Lived is definitely an enjoyable watch.