Theodora Goes Wild (1936) * 1/2
Directed by Richard Boleslawski. Written by Sidney Buchman from a story by Mary McCarthy. Produced by Everett Riskin. Photography by Joseph Walker. Starring Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas, Thomas Mitchell, Spring Byington, A Columbia Picture.
Lovely Irene Dunne, a denizen of a provincial and prudish New England small town, has written –secretly under a pseudonym -- a sexually novel that became a best-seller. She goes to New York to meet her publishers and see how the locals live. Among new acquaintances is Melvyn Douglas, the illustrator of her book, and a Big City man-about-town. When she goes back home. Douglas, smitten yet cynical, follows her, in the guise of a proletarian for hire. A romance follows, etc.etc.
That was Irene Dunne’s first leading role in a comedy. The film was touted in its day –and went down in movie history --as a fine screwball production. Dunne and the movie’s editor were Oscar-nominated.
I am sure that some books on movies list this production among major American comedies. In fact, the best-selling movie guide in the U.S.A awards it 3 1/2 stars!
But the sad fact or the awful truth so to speak-- see below my last paragraph-- is that the picture, for what it is, belongs in the category of duds. It is dull, lacks true cohesion, drags. Dunne tries but does not succeed. Douglas is not really three-dimensional. Instead, he is somewhat irritating. The supporting roles are negligible, etc. etc.
I found it especially disappointing because in my decades of movie-watching, I had never seen "Theodora Goes Wild" and somehow I believed that this item was a major lacuna in my education. Also, because the catchy title was so appealing!
"Theodora" had also received two Oscar nominations in 1940, for Ms. Dunne and for its editing by Otto Meyer.
Additionally, just before the day I watched it (on cable TV’s fine TCM), I had seen for the nth time in my life the beautifully sentimental "Love Affair" (1939) which was directed by Leo McCarey, starred Irene Dunne, the French heartthrob (and more) Charles Boyer, and as Boyer’s wonderful grandmother, Maria Ouspenskaya, a great stage and screen star (in Russia and the U.S.A). F.y.i. "Love Affair" had 8 Oscar nominations.
Note that this movie was remade by Mr. McCarey as a fine, justly popular film starring Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr and Cathleen Nesbitt, as "An Affair to Remember," in 1957. (It got 4 Oscar nominations.)
"Theodora" was the first attempt for a funny movie with Irene. Then, in 1937 she co-starred with Cary Grant in "The Awful Truth," directed by Leo McCarey (see above.) That film received 6 Oscar nominations and won Best Director. Then again, "My Favorite Wife" of 1940 reunited Irene Dunne and Cary Grant (it also included Randolph Scott and Gail Patrick in offbeat roles) turned out to be a wild, almost slapstick movie that’s one of the funniest ever made. The sex innuendoes are ahead of their time, cinematically speaking. It was to be directed by McCarey but he had a car accident. Director Garson Kanin took over and did a great job with that funny, wild movie.