Monday, 14 January 2013

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

In early 2000, there was a life changing event in my cinema-going life: a season of screwball comedies that for two months made me go repeatedly to the Portuguese Cinematheque. By the end of that season, I had watched some new favourites and some forgettable things (and some that moved from one to the other later on), but more important, I had a good grasp of the genre and had seen most of its key titles. There was, however, one major exception – “Theodora Goes Wild” with Irene Dunne. I got to finally see it in 2009, when the DVD came out. Unsurprisingly I watched it on the same day it arrived.

Was it worth the wait? Oh, yes… Theodora, a small town good girl (Irene Dunne) writes a raunchy novel under a pseudonym. While visiting her publisher in New York, the artist who designed the cover of her book (Melvyn Douglas) takes an interest in her. He ends following her to her small town, and does his best to liberate her from her environment. Only now Theodora goes wild, in a sudden turn (and hilarious, I thought) that the script takes in the third act.

I can definitely add this film to my list of reasons of why I think Irene Dunne is a favourite. From repressed girl in the beginning, to the master and maker of her own destiny at the end, she makes you believe in the growth of her character. Her timing is impeccable, and no matter how many times and how many people have said it before it should be repeated. She also pairs extraordinarly well with Douglas (another of my favourite actors) - just look at the sequences in Lynnsburg, particularly the dueling confrontation between the whistle and the piano and how her face reflects the lyrics. (Also note how the cat and the dog in the scene represent Dunne and Douglas, with the cat following where she can't go...). I freely admit that the later sequences in NY aren't as good as the ones in the small town.

Interestingly, Dunne was reluctant to take the part. She preferred to be thought of as a dramatic actress. However, she could really be both, and she got an Oscar nomination and spanned a career as comedienne, with "The Awful Truth" (and another nomination) and "My Favourite Wife" (both with Cary Grant) as the other highlights. The season at the Portuguese Cinematheque in 2000, showed not only these two, but also "The Joy of Living" and "Lady in a Jam". I recall nothing of either, but I think I liked the first and definitely found the second very weak.

The supporting cast (which includes Thomas Mitchell and Spring Byington), is delicious, particularly the aunts and Byington as the town's gossip (who also gets her own comeuppance).
I decided to watch the film again following a passionate stance on it by Peter Swaab, the curator of the Screwball season at the BFI at the season's introduction. I wasn't able to go to the screenings (would have loved to see in on the big screen, introduced by him), so a DVD session had to do...


Eileen said...

This is one of my very favorite films. Oh, Irene Dunne!

Everything about it charms me, and it's funny from beginning to end.

Judy said...

This movie is a lot of fun - must agree that the smalltown sequences are the best parts! I'd love to see this on the big screen, as my mum and brother did recently in London.