Monday, April 9, 2012

Classic Pick: Theodora Goes Wild

Theodora Goes Wild is on TCM 1 AM Tuesday. Here's a great example of screwball comedy done right, as well as being an important movie in the career of star Irene Dunne.

Dunne plays a Sunday school teacher from a small town, who, unbeknownst to anyone is actually the author, under a pseudonym, of a racy, scandalous novel titled The Sinner, which has been running in installments in the local paper.

Melvyn Douglas plays the commercial cover artist with whom Dunne does the obligatory romantic "dance/chase" which involves Douglas posing as a gardener in her small town, threatening to expose her, then returning to New York where Dunne follows him to serve up a nice juicy scandal to help him get out of his unhappy marriage.

After more than five years of weepy women’s dramas, epics, romances, and musicals, all of which Dunne did beautifully, Theodora Goes Wild was her first big screwball comedy, and as such surprised many critics, while also defining and boosting her career. It was a genre in which she would further improve her timing and talent, and would handily make her own in a way distinct from the other comedy queens like Carole Lombard, and Theodora shows just how she did so.

Dunne strikes the most perfect balance between being a nutty but grounded screwball comedienne, intelligent but with a great capacity for being ridiculous, especially when it’s meant to skewer and spoof both herself and conventions meant to keep her reigned in. She’s zany like a fox, for a purpose and just at the right moments, and only “playing” the naive small town lady with a knowing wink. And as a bonus she sings!

Another figure for whom Theodora was a comedy first was director Richard Boleslawski, who kept the farcical events going at a great steady pace with lots of laughs and a few homages to his fellow native Soviet filmmakers thrown in, because really, what would a comedy be without those?

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