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Friday, January 20, 2012

MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932)

Dorothy Arzner, the only female director to work at any of the major Hollywood studios in the ‘30s, doesn’t have enough film credits to pass up one of her lesser-known works, especially when it turns out to be something of a find. Championed (or at least, remembered) for the fatalist/feminist orientation of her best known pic, CHRISTOPHER STRONG/’33, the one with aviatrix Kate Hepburn in the moth-themed gown, MERRILY manages something even rarer, a close cinematic rendering of the sexually open tone & alcohol-fueled spirit of an F. Scott Fitzgerald Lost Generation short story. Or does until things swerve toward bathos in the last act. In a warm-up to A STAR IS BORN/’37, young Fredric March plays a charming, but alcoholic reporter with a half-finished play in his desk drawer. Sylvia Sidney, at her prettiest, is the rich heiress who falls for him in spite of the warning signs. Tough times give way to success; the one thing they can’t handle. You expect lenser Leo Tover & the Paramount art department to ace the rooftop glamor of a Chicago penthouse, but the believable New York apartments are even trickier to pull off, as is the fuss-free sketch of the ‘speak-easy’ lifestyle. Skeets Gallagher is a stand-out as a good-natured pal with an ever-ready time-step, and there’s a nice early cameo for the already assured Cary Grant. Even when the story turns conventional, Arzner captured something unusual on this one.

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