February 26, 2014

Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild

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I've had some strange reactions to the performances of 1936 thus far. First, I ended up liking Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld as well as Norma Shearer in Romeo and Juliet a lot more than I was initially expecting to. Then, contrary to much of the internet, I ended up not liking Walter Huston in Dodsworth all that much. And then came along Theodora Goes Wild, a film I expected to like instantly based off of the fact that it's about a lady who under a pseudonym publishes a naughty book which pisses off the conservative folks in her small town. On top of that, our heroine transforms from a proper girl to a scandalous woman with a bad reputation, and that really ought to have just sealed the deal with me. But for some reason, I had a hard time sitting through the film. It bored me. And much like with Walter Huston, I wasn't sure what to make of Irene Dunne.

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 photo ScreenShot2014-02-22at124327AM.jpgIt is said that Dunne was unsure of herself upon taking on Theodora Goes Wild, her very first comedic picture. This might explain my general disinterest in the film and in her--there is a spark I feel that's lacking from Dunne's performance and screen presence, and I found myself not very enthralled while watching her. Dunne essentially plays two characters--a genteel lady and a salacious troublemaker. For half the film I couldn't be any less interested in her. As Theodora, I found her to be rather boring both in the way the character is written to be and in her aura whenever the camera is on her. She definitely showcases a flair for comedy here. Her timing is nicely done. But I couldn't help but feel as though she could have dug a little deeper in many of her early scenes--there was always the slightest sense that while she does a good job, she hadn't completely mastered the bits and pieces of comedy just yet...I didn't see much of that poise that made Claudette Colbert so irresistible in It Happened One Night. Nonetheless, once Dunne begins playing Caroline, the dynamic gets much more interesting. Suddenly, there she is, decked out in some crazy 1930's glamour drag, her voice a little affected, her personality a little more radiant. Dunne carries herself with much more self-assurance in the second half of the film, and while I enjoyed fifty percent of her work in this film, ultimately I wasn't taken by the performance as an entire piece. It's a strong three, stronger than other threes I've given, only because I wasn't confident enough to give it a four.

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