Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Irene Dunne
THEODORA GOES WILD (1936). Director: Richard Boleslawski.

Seemingly the whole town of Lynnfield, Connecticut is up in arms because a risque novel by a "Caroline Adams" is being gleefully serialized in the town paper by editor Jed Waterbury (Thomas Mitchell). The most outraged townsfolk are members of the Lynnfield ladies literary circle, who would be astonished to learn that one of their number, Theodora Lynn (Irene Dunne) is actually the author of the scandalous book! On a trip to New York to see her publisher, Arthur Stevenson (Thurston Hall), Theodora encounters a man named Michael (Melvyn Douglas), who follows her back to Lynnfield and threatens to expose her secret. Only Michael has secrets of his own ... Theodora Goes Wild still makes a timely statement today about small-town hypocrisy, how people are secretly titillated by what they profess to abhor, and the need to shed off constricting small-mindedness and be true to one's instincts and nature. Even better is that it has some very good performances and a number of laugh-out-loud funny sequences. Unfortunately, the middle section, with Michael coming to Lynnfield where he becomes a gardener for Theodora and her aunts and drives them crazy with his constant whistling (the audience as well!), drags a lot and is rather tiresome, although the movie picks up in the final quarter. Dunne and Douglas are fine, with great support from Mitchell and Hall, Nana Bryant (Possessed) as Hall's jealous wife, and Elisabeth Risdon (The Egg and I) and Margaret McWade as Theodora's prudish but loving aunts. Spring Byington (Walk Softly Stranger) has a great scene when she reads an "offensive" passage from Adams' book with such gusto that you can tell she's privately thrilled with it. Robert Greig also makes an impression as Theo's free-spirited Uncle John, who wants her out from under the influence of his spinster sisters. Jake the dog is rather wonderful, too. This comes so, so close to being a classic but misses by that much.

Verdict: Still good for a laugh or two and a lively message. ***.

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