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Film / Merrily We Go to Hell

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Not quite as merrily as advertised.

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) is a pre-code drama starring Sylvia Sidney and Fredric March. It was directed by Dorothy Arzner (the only working female director at the time). The film also boasts Cary Grant in a small role.

Jerry Corbett (March) is an alcoholic reporter who falls in love with sweet heiress, Joan Prentice (Sydney). She’s smitten despite his alcoholic behaviour — charming at first — shows bad tendencies.

They - against all odds – decide to marry even if Jerry’s antics causes concern for Joan and her father.

At first, the marriage is blissful, but it rapidly disintegrates when they move to New York after Jerry’s play is picked up and his ex-wife, Claire Hempstead (Adrianne Allen), stars in it. Consequently, she turns him to the bottle and they begin a very public affair.

Deciding to be a “modern wife”, Joan keeps up the Happy Marriage Charade while having her own string of affairs. However, it all becomes too much, and she leaves Jerry although she still loves him.

Merrily We Trope to Hell:

  • The Alcoholic: It’s shown as a big issue for Jerry (he’s occasionally used for laughs, though). He fails to attend his engagement party because he passes out drunk. He sobers up for a while but once his play becomes a hit in New York, he falls back to his old habits
  • Arc Words: Jerry’s “I think you’re swell” which he repeats to Joan. At first, it’s sweet, but it rings hollow once he starts cheating on her. Joan reveals that he’s never said that he loves her which then prompts her in the climax to say that if she hears those words again, she’ll kill him.
  • Break the Cutie: Joan tries to put up a happy face until she realizes that Jerry has gone back to his two vices: drinking and Claire. The last straw comes when at their home, Claire and Jerry are making out in front of dozens of guests.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Mr. Prentice tries to buy off Jerry but fails.
  • Daddy's Girl: Joan adores her father, and as his only child, he’s clearly protective of her.
  • Extreme Doormat: Joan’s father accuses her of becoming one when they both find out Jerry is back on the bottle and cheating on her.
  • Genre Shift: The movie starts out playing like a Screwball Comedy before turning into a more serious story about alcoholism.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Joan decides that Jerry’s reckless behaviour and affair with Claire allows her to do the same to him.
    Jerry: I always said you were swell.
    Joan: Perhaps you won't think so much longer because if being a modern husband gives you privileges, then being a modern wife gives me privileges. I spent the morning realizing that we're living in a modern world - where there's no place for old-fashioned wives. You seem to want a modern wife and that's what I'm going to be. In other words, I'm going to unpack my trunks. You see, I'd rather go merrily to Hell with you than alone.
  • Gold Digger: Jerry’s work colleague accuses him of marrying Joan for her money.
    Richard: [after Jerry reads a particularly snide column about him and Joan written by Demery] Any statement to make to the press, Corbett?
    Jerry: Any statement I made to you wouldn't be fit to print.
    Richard: Well, I don't know. Yours is just a common case. When we're young, we want to marry for love, and when we're a little older, we marry a Rolls-Royce.
    [Jerry punches him]
  • Grew a Spine: At the end of the film, Jerry finally musters the courage to stand up against Joan’s dad when he demands to visit her in the hospital after their baby dies.
  • Lost Wedding Ring: At the altar, Jerry can't find Joan's ring. After digging his pockets he pulls one out in the nick of time. It turns out, however, that it was really a corkscrew.
  • Love Triangle: Joan loves Jerry while he’s still stuck on Claire.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Claire. She is the catalyst for Jerry hitting the bottle again. She barely seems to care that he's downward spiraling or when he dumps her.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Joan finds out she’s pregnant, and she tries to tell Jerry, but he’s drunk and embarrasses her for the last time. She leaves without telling him. Jerry only finds out via birth announcement in a scandal column.
  • Plot Parallel: It seems Jerry's play was about his and Claire's romance.
  • Slut-Shaming: Surprisingly averted. Jerry never holds Joan's affairs against her.
  • The Pre-Code Era: This is the type of film that could’ve only been made during the loose time of the early thirties. Joan becomes a “modern wife” (code for a wife that has various affairs).
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Jerry realizes what he’s missing when Joan leaves, he gives one to Claire:
    Jerry: I'm grateful this whole thing's happened because if I had never met you again, I might have gone through life clinging to an image in my mind, a phantom that I'd been drinking to for years, when all the time I had a wonderful reality in my arms.
  • Title Drop: The title is said various times by Jerry right before he takes a swig of drink, and even Joan says it once she realizes she’s going to be a “modern wife”.