Merrily We Go to Hell (Dorothy Arzner / U.S., 1932):

The Thirties romantic comedy of dizzy heiresses and tipsy swells, magnificently curdled. The journalist-playwright (Fredric March) first sees the young socialite (Sylvia Sidney) through a jungle of empty bottles, a harrowing stroll through "the modern world" follows. Dorothy Arzner is a stinging emotional engineer: She dissolves from the distraught heroine fleeing the botched engagement party (she drives into the night after March is found passed out) to wedding bells, then caps the ceremony with a close-up of the groom’s improvised ring, a bottle-opener placed around the bride’s finger. ("I see you believe in signs," she had quipped earlier.) Success opens up new veins of cruelty -- March’s hit play ("When Women Say ‘No’") introduces a former flame (Adrienne Allen), along with the notion of open marriages. Sidney plays along but, despite snatching Cary Grant for a moment, accrues so much self-loathing that even her father (George Irving) can only call her a "doormat." Arzner’s brittle sophisticates play like Lubitsch’s stripped off their soigné armor, desperately wisecracking and tap-dancing and warbling boozy songs to keep from looking at the abyss under their toes. (Heard in between strained witticisms: "Let me be a little sad, will you?") When Sidney unties her slumped-drunk husband’s necktie and hears another woman’s name on his lips, the hurt lingering on her face looks back to Griffith’s The Struggle; the hypersensitive lighting and resuscitative embrace of their hospital-ward reunion look ahead to Dreyer’s Ordet. With Skeets Gallagher, Esther Howard, Florence Britton, and Robert Greig. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home