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MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932)

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With its title drawn from the leading man’s favorite toast, this picture captures one of the excesses of pre-Code films: an emphasis on drinking, particularly during the final days of Prohibition. The picture also makes light of marital fidelity before affirming it in the final reel. Sylvia Sidney stars as an heiress who falls for hard-drinking newspaperman Fredric March. When she gets him to sober up, he writes a hit play and in short order, he cheats with the leading lady (Adrianne Allen) while his wife responds by doing a little cheating of her own (with a pre-stardom Cary Grant). This was Dorothy Arzner’s last film at Paramount, where she had started her directing career, and the film reflects her usual attention to dĂ©cor and its relationship to character. It’s also interesting that the editor of March’s paper is a tough-talking woman (Esther Howard). The film received only mixed reviews when it first came out, and at least one major newspaper refused to print the title in ads for it. It became a hit nonetheless because of the stars’ popularity and it’s still viewed fondly as an example of pre-Code filmmaking and Arzner’s directing skill. (d. Dorothy Arzner, 78m, DCP)

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