Monday, April 11, 2016

THEODORA GOES WILD (1936):Unmoral and Unfit to Print!

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association Words, Words, Words! Blogathon celebrating writers in film. Click HERE for more words about words!
Who among us has not dreamed of writing a juicy best seller? Imagine the fame, the fortune, the fun! And, just because we are all quite respectable individuals here (wink wink), imagine creating a literary identity – one who says all of the things you’d never dare (at least while anyone is watching). Sounds delicious, right? It might be, just as long as you don’t get busted. Which is exactly what happened to poor little Theodora Lynn.
Meet Theodora Lynn (Irene Dunne) – prim and proper Sunday School teacher, daughter of the founding fathers of Lynnfield, Connecticut, youngest member of the stuffy Lynnfield Literary Circle – and author of The Sinner under the pen name Caroline Adams. 
Outwardly meek and mild Theodora manages to balance her compartmentalized existence with woman of the world Caroline (ducking down to New York to meet with her publisher and presumably keep an eye on the big bucks her runaway best seller is raking in) quite well until the Lynnfield Bugle, Theodora’s hometown newspaper, decides to run a serialized version of The Sinner. That’s when all heck breaks loose.
Small town Theodora visits her publisher
The old hens of the Lynnfield Literary Society are up in arms. Staining their local paper is the purple prose of The Sinner. While some of the ladies obviously find the salacious story a guilty pleasure (most noticeably Spring Byington as a delightfully hypocritical peahen who gets hers in the end), it is decried as “unmoral and unprintable.” 
The Literary Society is scandalized!
Wielding their civic power over the local press, they attempt to strong-arm the Bugle’s publisher, Jed Waterbury (played by Thomas Mitchell), into silence. He resents the self-righteous censorship, is frustrated by it and is maddened by the old gossips, but he never gives up on freedom of the press.
Thomas Mitchell as the editor of the Bugle
Meanwhile, Theodora goes positively wild. Artist and scoundrel Michael Grant (Melvyn Douglas) has discovered her true identity and invades Theodora’s neat little world in Lynnfield to toy with her (posing rather improbably as a gardener looking for work). 
Michael shows Theodora he can fit into her "normal" life
He keeps her secret, but soon he and Theodora are canoodling and the gossip machine is fired up. Michael encourages her to break free of those small town constraints and live life to the fullest (which means sleep with him).  Ah, poor Theodora, she thinks sex means love. She takes Michael’s advice and declares her love to the world as well as her secret identity as Caroline Adams. The town is shocked and Michael bolts.
Irene Dunne demonstrating her
wild side on Melvyn Douglas 
Theodora is now in full Caroline Adams mode. She follows her love to New York and plants herself in his apartment. Michael is suddenly reticent, but why? Well, it turns out he is married and his behavior is dictated by a father who is no better than those controlling ladies of the Lynnfield Literary Society. Turns out big city hypocrisy is pretty much the same as the small town variety. 
Theodora hits the big city with a vengeance and an over the top wardrobe

As the mildly wild Theodora/Caroline, Irene Dunne is a wacky delight. Somewhat reminiscent of her performance as the Cary Grant’s faux showgirl sister in The Awful Truth, she is raucous and dresses with bad taste and abandon. She plants herself wherever Michael is and has the complicit approval of the wife who wants to be rid of him. Michael’s double life soon comes to light thanks to the glaring flashbulbs of a hungry press.
Caught by the press
In the end, Theodora and Michael are united, it appears Caroline Adams will be writing a new best seller and the gentlemen of the press not only continue to serialize The Sinner, but get one hot and juicy story that is sure to sell more papers to a public hungry for a good story.

You can never go wrong with Irene Dunne in a comedy. Her playing is always light with a quality of springtime. But – will someone please describe to me what she does with her teeth or tongue. I can’t take my eyes off of her mouth (even when she is in some pretty overwhelming furs).

As for Melvyn Douglas – I can’t say I’m a fan. I don’t especially dislike him, and I must say he makes an awfully good wolf – but as a romantic leading man…well, I just feel that he’s a better wolf. I know he supported some of the very best (Garbo anyone?), but imagine the fun if Theodora went wild with Cary Grant?

My favorite performer in the film is Thomas Mitchell as the publisher of the Lynnfield Bugle. He is just aces as the man who wants to sell papers and give the public what it wants. He is so real in the way that real people were portrayed in 1930s Hollywood.
And of course, all's well that ends well
While it’s mighty fun to watch novelist Theodora/Caroline caught in the crosshairs between small town hypocrisy and artistic freedom, it’s the other writers of the story – those newspapermen – that caught my fancy. They are driven, they love their work and they never, never, ever back down to a good story. And they make it all seem like so much fun!


Patricia Gallagher said...

Nicely said (though I think I like Melvyn Douglas more than you do). Cary Grant is always perfect though!

Caftan Woman said...

Love this selection for the blogathon. Theodora really connects with our imaginations.

I believe this was Irene's first foray into the world of screwball comedy and was she born to play those parts or what?!

I've always had a soft spot for Mr. Douglas so never had a problem with his leading man status. The standout performance for me is Spring Byington. Her "sweet" persona in so many pictures was deeply ingrained so when I saw the nasty piece she plays here it was worthy of applause.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Patricia. I know I have issues with Melvyn.....

FlickChick said...

Hi CW. Yes - I know I am in the minority about Mr. Douglas. Probably had a nasty teacher that he reminds me of or something. I agree Spring Byington is a winner here. The old hens in this film remind me of the way DW Griffith portrayed those nasty small town gossips. Of course, it was nice to see her get her comeuppance in the end.

John/24Frames said...

This is a fun film and it also has something to say about censorship and the prudish guardians who want to police the world. Nicely done.

Silver Screenings said...

Irene Dunne is so much fun in this film – as is everyone else. I liked what you said about Thomas Mitchell and how down-to-earth he appears. The film very much needs him, and his character.

I'd forgotten about this film, since it's been quite some time since I've seen it. I'm hoping I can stream it tonight!

Also, a nice nod to journalists who believe in freedom of the press and don't give up on a story. Sometimes that can be a thankless job...

ClassicBecky said...

I haven't seen this one for a long time! Actually, I'm not a huge Irene Dunne fan -- will I be expected torches and pitchforks for that? She's OK, and this movie was a lot of fun. I have to say that your description of the "... old hens of the Lynnfield Literary Society" reminded me immediately of the wonderful women in "The Music Man" doing "Pick a Little, Talk a Little" ... Chaucer -- Rabelais -- BALZAC! As ever, Chick, you did a peachy piece!

Leah Williams said...

This one didn't work for me, probably because I had a little too high of expectations for it (given that it was Dunne). She wasn't quite convincing enough to me in her madcap phase in this movie. I liked the opening a lot though, so maybe it was just how annoying I found Douglas in the role. Why all that effort for him?:)

Rick29 said...

One of Irene Dunne's best performances! I haven't watch THEODORA in a long time, but I recall it being a clever film full of bright moments. Needless to say, it's another one added to the "wanna see" list as a result of this blogathon.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Douglas. And Dunne is a joy! Thanks for this great read!

Christian Esquevin said...

Great choice FlickChick. This was a good vehicle for Irene Dunne, and showed her many talents. Her costumes by Bernard Newman were super (and wild as the title called for). Thanks for picking this one for the blogathon.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, John24 - it's always fun to poke holes in the prudes, isn't it?

FlickChick said...

Hi Ruth - yes - those folks of the press always seem to be having so much fun in the 1930s - boy, how times have changed.

FlickChick said...

Becky - I thought of those ladies in the Music Man, too. It took me a while to come around to Irene Dunne - but since she was Cary Grant's favorite co-star, I had to keep trying. Now I'm a fan.

FlickChick said...

Leah - exactly - why all that effort for him! I confess I felt the same way - but Irene sure put a lot of fun into her pursuit.

FlickChick said...

Hi rick - thanks for stopping by. If you are a Dunne fan, you have to like her in this.

FlickChick said...

Cameron - thanks for the anti-Douglas support. But, he does do the wolf leer pretty great.

FlickChick said...

Christian - oh those costumes. And, although she was never known as a glamour girl, she is #1 on my list of women who knew how to wear furs.