The small-town prudes of Lynnfield are up in arms over 'The Sinner,' a sexy best-seller. They little suspect that author 'Caroline Adams' is really Theodora Lynn, scion of the town's leading family. Michael Grant, devil-may-care book jacket illustrator, penetrates Theodora's incognito and sets out to 'free her' from Lynnfield against her will. But Michael has a secret too, and gets a taste of his own medicine. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Irene Dunne plays Theodora Lynn, a proper New England girl. She also happens to go by the name of Caroline Adams. Secluded all her life with her two prudish aunts and the other puritans of the "highly regarded" Lynn Literary Circle, she sublimates her revolt as the secret author of a tantalizing best-selling novel. This is her sublimation of revolt. The movie illustrates the makeover of an allegedly homely and introverted girl into the most wild and high-spirited lady. And it marks a difference between wild and silly, as Uncle John says, "A Lynn may go wild, but never silly." See title for more info on how Theodora goes.
She lives in Lynnfield, named after the Lynn family, whose only legacy are Theodora and her two aunts, Elsie and Mary. "The two oracles," says Thomas Mitchell, editor of The Lynnfield Bugle, the "pulse" of the town. It's an enticing note for the movie to start on, a brassy Thomas Mitchell carving out the lovable, spirited personality he'd bring to Stagecoach, fending off puritanical spinsters protesting that the titillating novel he's featuring is not fit to print. Indeed, the members are single-minded not to allow "sexy trash like this come right into our homes and corrupt the morals of our youth." When Mitchell gets to have a word, he blames the community for denying social progress. But the group deems it their obligation to keep Lynnfield the one pure, God-fearing place left in the world.
We chuckle knowingly when the action then cuts to New York, where a publisher reads an irate wire from Lynnfield. Theodora is so frantic she thinks Caroline Adams is depraved. Was he raised in a small town by two maiden aunts? Has he lectured Sunday School or played church organ for years? Categorically not. Undaunted, he knows that nobody dumps an audience this big, a career this sensational, due to scruples. That's the reality, one curtailed by Hollywood soon after. But the censors were new and hadn't yet learned to keep its right up, so here we have a forgotten early-sound keepsake of silver-screen censure of moral censorship, frivolous and wacky, but by god not silly.
It's this uncensored rebellious energy that I think lends itself to a creative stylishness rare to early American cinema. Short-lived Russian immigrant director Richard Boleslawski brings a particularly effective and stylishly economical editing and visual direction to this appropriately fast-paced early rom-com. Like all the "early rom-coms," its time played a big role in not just its plot but its attitudes, which on the one hand make Theodora Goes Wild refreshingly irreverent but on the other still outmoded in certain varying personal ways. Theodora meets her dapper illustrator, in the form of Melvyn Douglas. Here's a persona who bursts into the movie mugging, blustering and making a domineering nuisance of himself. Theodora opposes his idea of a writer who ought to live life, and so he enlists himself to liberate her. And yet judging this behavior as extraordinarily narcissistic, overbearing and cocky against the alpha male fantasy in romantic comedies of the era would be judging one against a homogeneous crowd.
Women were to be rescued, shown the way, wisened up to the real world. And consistent with that role, Theodora is finally inspired by this dashing leader-of-the-pack type to run amok, even exceeding him in mischief and cheek. She now exhibits what he's urged on her so winningly. She relates with dignity how she told the town off: It's a free country, she's an adult and phooey to anyone who judges her for what she does. Indeed, Theodora woos infamy, summoning one outrage after another. But, to her disappointment, beneath his supposedly freethinking facade, Michael is as soft and repressed as she was. Michael is ensnared in a hateful marriage on behalf of his father's political livelihood, and Theodora guarantees to return his favor with a taste of his own juice. Usurping into Michael's apartment, she dresses in feathers and gives shocking interviews to the tabloids. They rotate. Now it's Theodora's task to free him from his bourgeois sense of decorum.
Regardless, all that good stuff is just decoration. Actually, it's foundation, but there is a definite, sublime enchantment in its star, Irene Dunne. She played more kinds of roles in more kinds of movies than most of her female peers, and yet is arguably more natural, spontaneous and memorable than any of them. In fact, Theodora Goes Wild is her first comedy. She walks right into it, fully and effortlessly possessed of herself and manages to both be better than all of her female comedy contemporaries and completely different from all of them as well. I'll even go as far as to say that the movies owe more to Dunne than Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy put together. Her Theodora became the forerunner of copious romantic comedies like The Awful Truth and Ninotchka, all anchored in similar principles: the enchanting transformation of their female protagonists. The Awful Truth made a star out of Cary Grant. And in his later co-stars, were looking for Dunne-like qualities. This is her show, and like it always is in such cases, absolutely no one else could've compared.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?