“I’m afraid as a rule I prefer the company of men… Particularly if they’re bartenders.”
An aspiring playwright (Fredric March) with a drinking problem marries an heiress (Sylvia Sidney) whose father (George Irving) is skeptical of March’s intentions. When March carries on an affair with a former flame (Adrianne Allen), Sidney despairs, but resolves to take revenge by living a “free” marriage herself.
Possessing one of the best titles in early Hollywood history, Merrily We Go to Hell is — perhaps almost inevitably — a bit of a disappointment. Helmed by famed female director Dorothy Arzner, it tells the rather predictable tale of cross-class lovers marrying on a whim and discovering that life isn’t nearly as easy or idyllic as they might have hoped. Sidney is typecast as a sweet yet determined heiress who refuses to let either March’s lack of income or his glaringly obvious drinking problem get in the way of her love for him; March is an unwitting heel but as handsome and dapper as his role requires. The title itself is based on a refrain March throws out several times before taking a drink, one which Sidney herself eventually adopts out of desperation — indeed, Sidney’s decision to try to meet March halfway in his cavalier attitude towards life and marriage constitutes the most interesting aspect of the story, as we see one of the earliest examples of a “swinging couple” on-screen (with Cary Grant showing up for a bit role as Sidney’s new lover). Unfortunately, the storyline eventually devolves into predictable melodrama, with traditional morality reasonably — albeit unrealistically — restored.
P.S. The best line in the film is probably made when March sheepishly admits to Sidney early on that he “prefers the company of men”; this comment is never explored in more detail, but knowing that Arzner was a lesbian gives one occasion to pause.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Sylvia Sidney as Joan
- Fredric March as Jerry
- A brave, early look at an “open relationship” as a response to marital infidelity
- Cary Grant in a very brief early appearance
No, but it’s worth a look.