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!