Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

Fifty Shades Of Screwball

Theodora Goes Wild is an amazingly progressive film, from an era when Hollywood was dominated by strict censorship, provoking the reaction of “how did they get away with that?!”. Hollywood’s production code came into effect in 1934, yet there are films made after this date with code breaking content such as Theodora Goes Wild, which make me question if Will Hays was sick the day this movie went through the production board.

Theodora Lynn is a Sunday school teacher who’s been playing the church organ since she was 15 in the small town of Lynnfield, Connecticut (yet another screwball comedy set in the state). The small community is being dictated by a group of Helen Lovejoy types but when the local newspaper run by Thomas Mitchell starts printing a serialization of a scandalous best seller by writer Caroline Adams in an effort to show the town how people live, love and learn in the real world, it causes outrage. Little do they know Caroline Adams is their own Theodora Lynn! Whoever said old movies are outdated? This movie hasn’t lost an ounce of relevance for today’s world.

The scene at the beginning of Theodora Goes Wild in which the ultra conservative local literary group read passages from the “scandalous” novel has jaw dropping amounts of “how did they get away with that?!” Under the rules of the production code a character must receive a punishment for their so called immoral actions. Not here though! Despite Theodora rebelling against her staunchly conservative home town and upbringing, she receives no punishment. Whoever said old movies are stuffy?

The creation of the screwball comedy came about following the production code’s introduction as a way of ventilating sexual repression. It requires a bit of Melvyn Douglas as Michael Grant to ignite Theodora’s sexual awakening after he seduces her while wearing a vest as his only piece of torso. Despite nether of these two performers being sex symbols, it’s surprising how steamy this scene comes off. Melvyn Douglas plays a potentially creepy stalker but is charming enough to get away with it. The man has adapt comedic timing (I never tire of that whistling of his) and it’s easy to see why he was one of the most reliable male co stars of the time. I would rank Theodora Goes Wild as the second most pre-code post-code film I’ve seen. The only film I think of which out does it is The Lady Eve. So yeah, “how did they get away with that?!”.

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