Thursday, July 15, 2010

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

When the Lynnfield Bugle, a small Connecticut newspaper, runs a serial of Caroline Adams' risqué novel, The Sinner, editor Jed Waterbury (Thomas Mitchell) receives many complaints from the prudish women in town. Among them are leading citizens, Mary and Elsie Lynn (Elisabeth Risdon and Margaret McWade), whose niece Theodora (Irene Dunne) is horrified to learn that the Bugle is running them, as she happens to be the secret author of the scandalous novel.

She rushes into New York under the guise of visiting neighbor Rebecca Perry’s (Spring Byington) daughter (who is secretly married and pregnant to a man her mother doesn’t approve of and staying with Theodora’s wicked Uncle John). She frets to her publisher about the serial and is overheard by the illustrator of her book, Dubarry (Melvyn Douglas) an infernal busy body. When Dubarry learns of Theodora’s small town existence, he comes for a visit much to the Lynn’s exasperation and Rebecca Perry’s glee. His goal is to convince Theodora to free herself from her Puritanical existence and really live. Theodora promptly falls in love with him and after scandalizing the hometown gossips, proclaims her love for him. Unfortunately, Dubarry is already unhappily married and though he longs for a divorce, he comes from a politically prominent family. With roles reversed, Theodora sets out to “free” Dubarry.

Unfortunately, most likely given the times and attitudes towards women, she doesn’t do it with the grace and slyness of Dubarry. Instead, Theodora goes wild…or more aptly, batshit crazy. Gone are the small town gingham gowns and innocent, inexperienced charms. Bring on the fur and feathers, the scandalous flirting and sophisticated cocktail parties. Theodora is set on getting her Dubarry even at the risk of her own reputation and the reputation of her suffering aunts back at home. She becomes what everyone assumes Caroline Addams is like.

A very entertaining film and one that propelled Melvyn Douglas into witty, leading-man roles, Theodora Goes Wild has wit and charm if you can get past how silly Irene Dunne must become to get her man. Ironically, Dunne didn’t want to do the film at all. "I'd never done a comedy before," she later recalled. "I'd done serious parts like Back Street, and there was this little flipperty small town dummy, and I just didn't like her at all." So, instead, Dunne took off for a two-month European vacation, hoping the Columbia would come up with something better. However, by 1936, everybody from Barbara Stanwyck to Joan Crawford to Bette Davis were involved with the screwball comedy phase. So Dunne jumped right in. They chose an unlikely director as well. Richard Boleslawski up to that time was a director of dramatic film, however, according to Douglas (also known for his dramtic roles on Broadway) he also had his wild side. Dunne was supposed to make an entrance appearing excited, Boleslawski unsatisfied with her reactions, had a crew member fire blanks from a pistol just below Dunne's backside. Needless to say, he finally got the reaction he desired.

The dialogue from this film is re-used in the film Bedtime Story (1941), in which Fredric March portrays a playwright and Loretta Young his actress wife. All the dialogue in Fredric March's new "play" is actually from the screenplay of the Theodora Goes Wild. It's virtually word for word, with only the heroine's name changed. In Bedtime Story, the actors playing the onstage scene are not meant to be in a comedy. What is borrowed is the confrontation over the gardener between Theodora, her aunt, and the local club ladies. Also, in an early scene, Fredric March has an inspiration for the last line of his play - something about nobody in the town ever calling the heroine "baby" before - an idea that figures in Theodora Goes Wild as well. - IMDb

Tonight on TCM! Love this movie!! It's full of memorable moments and one-liners.
Better Off Dead (1985) A teenager deals with a hilarious assortment of personal crises.
Cast: John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Kim Darby, Demian Slade Dir: Savage Steve

1 comment:

  1. Yes..Theodora is a great screwball comedy. That was a great blog about it too Sarah.