Theodora Goes Wild (1936) – full review!
Directed by Richard Boleslawski with a screenplay by Sidney Buchman this average screwball comedy earned its titled star Irene Dunne her second of five (without ever winning!) Best Actress Academy Award nominations. Editor Otto Meyer earned the first of his two nominations. If the viewer can get through the positively annoying scenes (like Melvyn Douglas’s endless whistling) in the film’s first third it’s worth watching through to the end for an hilarious payoff. However much of this comedy falls flat relative to other more clever (and recognizable) films of the genre.
Dunne plays Theodora Lynn a small town (in EVERY sense of the word) “girl” who uses the alias Carolin Adams to write a scandalous book about a more modern woman than one finds in the conservative town in which she still lives. In truth she thought she was writing a romance novel but her publisher Arthur Stevenson (Thurston Hall) had other ideas of promoting the book one of which was hiring artist Michael Grant (Douglas) to draw a racy cover picture for it. Jed Waterbury (Thomas Mitchell) who runs the Lynnfield (yes it’s named for Theodora’s family) newspaper is thrilled to be able to buy the serial rights to the novel from its publisher. Theodora lives with her near sufficatingly conservative aunts Mary (Elisabeth Risdon) & Elsie (Margaret McWade) who are to be “hounded” and embarrassed by the town’s principle gossip Rebecca Perry (Spring Byington) and the rest of their literary circle.
The trouble begins when Theodora goes to New York to see her publisher; her aunts think she’s going to visit her “black sheep of the family” Uncle John (Robert Greig) whom she also plans to see. Though publisher Stevenson and his wife Ethel (Nana Bryant) have agreed to keep her identity a secret Michael has weaseled his way into dinner with the Stevensons and Theodora. He is surprised to find that she’s rather “small town” and goads her into drinking dancing and even returning with him to his apartment by making her feel so. He then follows her to Lynnfield where he discovers her secret and then proceeds to annoy the pants off of everyone including this reviewer except Theodora who falls for him. However when he learns of her affections for him he disappears and returns to the city. Not one to be abandoned Theodora follows Michael to New York and discovers that he’s not only married (to Leona Maricle’s character) but he’s stuck in a loveless marriage. That’s because his father (Henry Kolker) is the state’s Lieutenant Governor who wants to avoid the scandal of divorce in his family at any cost. However Michael declares his love for Theodora and says that if she can just wait a couple of years through the next election cycle he wants to marry her. But like Michael did to her in her hometown environment Theodora “goes wild” to disrupt and free Michael from his. Dunne’s face-to-face mocking of “Douglas’s” hypocrisy is one of the funnier scenes but not quite as funny as the film’s biggest hypocrite getting her just desserts at the end of it.
The best part of the movie follows with Theodora’s true identity being exposed and her getting involved in scandal after scandal in New York each being gleefully reported in Lynnfield by Waterbury and his assistant Henry (Billy Benedict uncredited). Views of cats are interspersed with those of the town’s women as they call one other spreading the gossip. Theodora’s exploits even include dancing at a party with the Governor (Frederick Burton) whom she charms before he finds out who she really is. All of these events lead to one predictable conclusion.
*** SPOILERS ***
The film’s comedic payoff comes at the very end. Rebecca Perry’s daughter Adelaide (Rosalind Keith uncredited) had been working in New York secretly married & pregnant with child. She’d given birth and decided to come home to her family with her husband and baby. Theodora’s pending return home presents a perfect opportunity for Adelaide et al to return unnoticed. So even though her mother Rebecca still ignorant of all this and the other literary circle women had decided to shun Theodora’s return none could resist being there. Theodora relishing the freedom from her conservative upbringing is greeted by virtually everyone in town including a brass band headed by Waterbury. Without explaining anything she gets off the train with a baby and the parade carries her home. Upon arrival she is greeted by Michael who assumes the worst (that the baby is hers) and starts running out the back door. With baby in arms Theodora follows to explain when at the back gate where Rebecca Perry and friends have gathered she reveals that the baby is Adelaide’s then turns and hands it to her “Grandma” who faints!