Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

Fifty Shades Of Screwball

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Theodora Goes Wild was released two years into Hollywood’s production code and yet the entire premise of the movie is one huge “how did they get away with that?!”. Only The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire and The Moon Is Blue perhaps out do it in terms of most pre-code post-code films. A film with a heroine who writes risqué novels and rebels against her ultraconservative, God-fearing, Helen Lovejoy type aunts who deem it their obligation to keep the fictional town of Lynnfield, Connecticut (yet another screwball comedy set in the state) the one last pure, God-fearing town in America. Moral puritans who try to ruin everyone else’s fun and claim to speak for a larger group- every generation has them. Theodora Goes Wild proceeds with an ending in which the once silent majority Lynnfield show their true colours. – 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 local literary group read passages from the latest “scandalous” novel from author Caroline Adams really is jaw-dropping. However, the local newspaper run by Thomas Mitchell starts printing a serialization of the scandalous bestseller in an effort to show the town how people live, love and learn in the real world. Little do they know Caroline Adams is their own Theodora Lynn, a Sunday school teacher who’s been playing the church organ since she was 15. 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 God-fearing upbringing, she receives no punishment. Whoever said old movies are stuffy and the dreaded “O” word, outdated?

Despite writing highly successful adult novels, Theodora’s conscious still objects to it and thus 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 neither 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 and carefree to a comic degree that he gets away with it. The man has adapt comedic timing (I never tire of that whistling of his) and it’s easy to see why Douglas was one of the most reliable male co-stars of the time. However what succeeds in making him a more interesting character is the discovery that Michael is actually just as repressed as Theodora due to being enslaved in a hateful marriage on behalf of his father’s political livelihood. Once Michael liberates Theodora from her small town way of life she returns the favour and liberates him from his New York, bourgeois decorum.

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Men In White (1934)

Medical Melodrama

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Initially I was skeptical at weather Clark Gable would make a convincing doctor but not only does he pull it off (even if he is the most gorgeous doctor ever *swoons) Men In White has to be my favourite performance I’ve seen him deliver portraying the idealistic and dignified young Dr. George Ferguson; 60 years before George Clooney in ER. Men In White is a perfect showcase of what Gable is cable off while Myrna Loy, although not dominating the film as much still shares a mature romance with Gable who must make difficult decisions between his profession and his love life. Rest assured I got the satisfactory amount of swooning I would expect from a pairing of these two.

I cannot stress enough just how astounding this movie looks. This is without a doubt most stunning black and white film I’ve seen from the 1930’s. Every scene is light so immaculately with multi-layered and angled shots plus the widespread use of shadows giving the film shades of noir. Even the classic noir shot of the shadows created by blind shutters on one’s face to show they have become imprisoned in life is present. Likewise, the art deco design of the hospital itself would likely not be practical in real life but it sure as hell looks good; needless to say the removal of eyes from the screen is easier said than done. The film’s set designer was Cedric Gibbons, a regular at MGM who helped create the distinctive look of their films in the 1930’s and surely Men In White is one of his greatest achievements.

Movies like this where common in the 1930’s, glorifying those who held jobs central to society (Tiger Shark, Night Flight, Slim). Call them propaganda but they were effective and informative. Although I don’t have any real interest in medicine or healthcare (despite both my parents being nurses) Men In White gives a real sense of awe and wonder to medical world such as when Dr. McCabe (Henry B. Walthall) the elder doctor who gives a rousing speech at the beginning of the film on all the medical advances in his lifetime (anesthesia, sterilization, surgery, x-ray) and the figures behind them. We’ve come much further since 1934, certainly when it comes to the etiquette of the doctors on display. In one scene a doctor hits on a nurse in the open for everyone else to hear while other doctors have no problem openly talking about their sex lives (“Being in love kills your sex life”). There is even one scene in which a doctor is running through the public area of the hospital wearing only a towel! If that happened today it would be all over the tabloids.

Men In White paints a picture of just how demanding a job as a doctor is, working round the clock; Dr. Ferguson works 16-18 hours a day for $20 a week (in 1934 or course). His finance Laura (Myrna Loy) has a selfish streak to her, getting frustrated with Ferguson when he’s only doing his job and one which is detrimental to saving the lives of others. Additionally Jean Hersholt (Hollywood’s great Dane and an actor who has that look of great intellect) as Ferguson’s mentor pressure’s George to put greater priority to his career than his love life. The film’s ending isn’t so predictable having me question whether or not George and Laura will end up together in the end.

Men In White also showcases corruption which can exist within hospitals when a superior doctor knowingly gives a child too much insulin, only for Dr. Ferguson to interfere even if it puts his job on the line. Once the child recovers from the insulin overdose, the superior doctor takes the credit; douche. The child, however, thanks and hugs Dr. Ferguson at the end of the film in what I feel is the movie’s most inspiring moment. Gable isn’t playing a brute here like he often does but rather someone who can project a level of warmth especially with his interaction with his child patient.

The scene in which Dr. Ferguson and the English nurse Barbara Den (Elizabeth Allen) are bonding over their loneliness and then start kissing is a breathtaking sequence. This leads to the most daring aspect of Men In White is the inclusion of abortion in the film’s plot. When I first watched the film I didn’t catch on that the big surgery scene itself was the result of a failed back alley abortion as the film’s hints are very subtle; it’s all in the undertones of the movie. That’s one reason why Men In White is re-watching; distinguishing what’s being said and shown versus what is really going on. If anything this is much more fun and satisfying having the movie simply spell everything out to the viewer.

When it is discovered Nurse Den attempted to get an abortion it is simply alluded to that she has a condition worse than a ruptured appendix and before the surgery itself Dr. Ferguson is questioned, “who is the man?”. It’s not made clear if the child being terminated is the result of the affair between Ferguson and Den, however, before their fling she is seen feeling unwell. Although I can’t comment of how accurate a depiction Men In White is of the medical profession I was still amazed at the level of detail in the movie from the terminology to the wide range of instruments used. One particular moment which stood out to me was the rigorously high level of sanitization the staff must go through prior to surgery. The film has an economic length of only 73 minutes but packs so much content. I’d happily become ill just to go to this hospital.