The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Merrily We Go To Hell (1932) Review

Title: Merrily We Go To Hell
Year: 1932
Director: Dorothy Arzner
Country: US
Language: English

Pre-code pictures of the early 1930's often had scandalous titles in order to boost sales at the box office. Merrily We Go To Hell's title was so sensational that theatres refused to screen the film, newspapers refused to publicize it, and church groups sought to boycott it. The papers that did review the title, namely The New York Times,  gave it a mixed reaction. Despite this, the film managed to do well at the box office. 

A drunken newspaperman named Jerry (Fredric March) is rescued from his alcoholic haze by an heiress Joan Prentice (Sylvia Sidney) whose love sobers him up and encourages him to write a play, but he lapses back into dipsomania.

Director Dorothy Arzner was one of the few female directors during the Golden Age of Hollywood. At Paramount Pictures she durected incredibly profitable box office hits as Fashions for Women (1927), Ten Modern Commandments (1927), Get Your Man (1927) and The Wild Party (1929). Her career peaked with with Merrily We Go to Hell, because she was unhampered by the rigidly enforced Hays Code that would be in place starting in 1934. The main reason she would have more difficulty is due to making pictures about women's issues. Adultery, sexism, patriarchy, and other social concerns that no male directors would touch.

During a period of Hollywood where drunks were the driving force of comedies, Merrily We Go to Hell displays a much darker side of drinking. March's character is seen as a destructive agent of chaos, wrecking every relationship in his path. Arzner's sympathies pull us toward Joan, who goes transforms from a naïve enabler into a woman of conviction.

Merrily We Go To Hell is a refreshing feminist change to the Hollywood formula that usually sided with the male, no matter how vile the character was. It was also quite remarkable to see a film of the 30's suggest an open marriage with both partners being bisexual. This is a fine picture that ought to be examined more closely. 

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