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Merrily We Go to Hell

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"Merrily We Go to Hell" is a pre-Code drama film directed by the remarkable Dorothy Arzner, the only proactive female director in Hollywood during the 1920s and 30s. Released in 1932, the film delves into the world of glamour, romance, and betrayal with a dramatic depiction of married life and the consequences of infidelity. With stellar performances by Sylvia Sidney and Fredric March, the movie offers a potent mixture of passion, regret, and resilience, taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

In the film, Sylvia Sidney portrays the character of Joan, the daughter of a wealthy Chicago businessman, while Fredric March stars as Jerry, a struggling, alcohol-addicted playwright whose charm and wit hide his flaws. "Merrily We Go to Hell" revolves around the life of this mismatched couple and stages a significant discussion on love, marriage, fidelity, and socio-economic class issues.

Set against the backdrop of pre-Depression America, the film opens with the bewitching meeting of Jerry and Joan at a lavish party. Joan is instantly smitten by Jerry's charismatic persona – a fascination that leads to breathless romance and a quick wedding. However, post-marriage, Joan discovers the harsh truth about the man she so deeply loves. Jerry, though a talented playwright, is also an unabashed alcoholic who spirals further into his addiction, instead of focusing on Joan and their union.

The plot thickens as Joan learns about Jerry's past relationship with the glamorous stage actress Claire (portrayed by Adrienne Allen), who now stars in his play. As the narrative progresses, the film navigates through the complexities of a troubled marriage, punctuated by Jerry's endless nights of drunken debauchery and desperate attempts at redemption. Throughout, Joan remains a fascinating character, embodying a modern and forward-thinking woman's spirit with her determination to survive and thrive despite her husband's infidelity.

"Merrily We Go to Hell" stands out with its realistic and raw portrayal of marriage and infidelity, which was quite a taboo during the era it was made in. What makes it even more interesting is its intentional departure from the glamorized representation of love. It presents the unvarnished truth of relationships and effectively cultivates a discussion on the imperfections, hardships, and sacrifices in a marriage. Dorothy Arzner, with her exceptional storytelling skills, presents a woman's perspective rarely seen in that era's cinema, exploring the nuances of a wife navigating the ramifications of her husband's indiscretions.

The film also maintains a striking balance between comedy, drama, and romance, ensuring that the audience is deeply engrossed. Its dialogue is clever and well-written, with enough humor to lighten the intense narrative. On-screen, Sylvia Sidney and Fredric March share an undeniable chemistry, making their characters' complex relationship credible and engaging. Their convincing performances depict characters that are relatable and profoundly human, adding another layer of authenticity to this motion picture.

Besides the leading duo, the film's supporting cast, notably Adrienne Allen, adds depth and resolves to the story. Their stimulating performances create a nuanced palette of characters that leave a lingering impact on viewers' minds. Furthermore, the film showcases the grandeur of the 1930s with beautifully designed sets and costumes, heightening each scene's dramatic effect.

But the movie's real strength lies in its bold and authentic portrayal of love and heartbreak, making it way ahead of its time. It breaks away from typical love stories and dares to present the less-glamorous side of love and marriage. While it explores dark themes, it never loses its underlying sense of optimism and provides a profound message on unwavering resilience and establishing one's identity irrespective of the circumstances.

In conclusion, “Merrily We Go to Hell” is a classic cinematic piece that remained bravely unconventional in its time. It delivers intense performances from its lead cast, a poignant and thought-provoking portrayal of marriage and infidelity, and highlights the socially emancipated picture of a woman's transition in love and betrayal. Overall, it’s a must-watch for those who enjoy classic dramas and appreciate the revolution of cinema.

Merrily We Go to Hell is a Comedy, Drama, Romance movie released in 1932. It has a runtime of 83. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 6.9..

Dorothy Arzner
Sylvia Sidney, Fredric March
Also directed by Dorothy Arzner
Merrily We Go to Hell is available on .