Spring Byington

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

When their local newspaper begins running excerpts from Caroline Adams’ risqué book “The Sinner,” the town of Lynnfield, Connecticut is scandalized.  The paper’s editor gets lots of complaints from the town’s literary circle, particularly Theodora Lynn (Irene Dunn), her spinster aunts Mary and Elsie (Elizabeth Risdon and Margaret McWade, respectively), and Rebecca Perry (Spring Byington),  who get him to stop running the excerpts.  Theodora is an upstanding member of the community, but what nobody else knows is that Theodora is actually Caroline Adams.

Upset that her hometown paper was allowed to run those excerpts, Theodora takes a trip to New York to visit her publisher Arthur Stevenson (Thurston Hall).  Arthur really wants Theodora to do some publicity for her wildly successful book, but she doesn’t want to shame her family.  While in New York, Theodora is introduced to illustrator Michael Grant (Melvyn Douglas), who designed the cover of her book.  Michael is immediately suspects Theodora isn’t the worldly woman you’d expect the author of “The Sinner” to be.  He calls her out on it and, determined to prove him wrong, she gets drunk with him that night.  But when he tries to seduce her, she ends up running from his apartment.

When Theodora heads back to Lynnfield, Michael follows her to see just how tame her life really is.  When her aunts ask who he is, he poses as an out-of-work gardener named Dubarry.  Theodora hires him to take care of their yard, despite her aunts’ objections, and Michael/Dubarry becomes the talk of the town. He and Theodora fall in love with each other, but Michael really believes in her and wants to help her break free of her repressed environment so she can reach her full potential.  Even though their relationship is completely innocent, it still shocks the entire town.  After a while, Michael returns to New York and Theodora follows him.  She finds out that Michael is also stuck in an unhappy situation and the best way she can think of to get him out of it is to let her hair down the way Michael has encouraged her to.

Even though I don’t think Melvyn Douglas was Irene Dunne’s best leading man, Theodora Goes Wild is a lot of fun.  The script is very witty and Dunne is a riot.  Melvyn is great in it, too, but it’s awfully hard to top Cary Grant as my favorite Irene Dunne co-star. I wouldn’t call it one of the all-time great screwball comedies, but it is very enjoyable nonetheless.