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Lynnfield's Brief Brush With Movie History

In 1936, the movie "Theodora Goes Wild" took place in the fictional town of Lynnfield, Connecticut.

Ever on the lookout for new angles to write about involving Lynnfield, I recently made an interesting discovery - that the 1936 comedy movie "Theodora Goes Wild" was set in a fictional town called Lynnfield, Connecticut.

The basic plot line has been repeated for decades in movies and forever in literature - a pretty young woman from a wealthy family is courted by a dashing but potentially rascally free-spirit type of guy, and hilarity and/or social awkardness and conflict ensue. We've seen it in every Marx Brothers movie of the '30s to "Harvey" in the 1950s right up to '80s hits like "Dirty Dancing" and far beyond. 

In this particular story, Theodora, played by Irene Dunne, is a young woman from a very prominent local family (the Linn family) who lives with her two overly proper and status-obsessed never-married aunts. However, she also happens to secretly be the author of a steamy novel that has scandalized many town residents.

Further complicating matters, Theodora ends up falling for her book illustrator, who insists on being an artist much to the disapproval of his prominent politician father - and who also finds himself unable to get a divorce from his otherwise dead marriage due to those same family ties.

The notion of a small New England town scandalized by a local author's book played out in real life a couple of decades after this movie came out. In fact, during my time as a news editor for the Laconia Citizen in New Hampshire, the nearby town of Gilmanton marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Peyton Place (1956) by Grace Metalious. Even after all that time, the book was still a dicey topic in some quarters.

In a nutshell, this movie isn't too bad by vintage standards. It's kind of breezy, just moves along mostly and actually is pretty amusing. Online discussion of this movie consistently refers to Irene Dunne as a "slapstick" actress, although her humor seems to be more of the subtle variety compared to other contemporaries like Lucille Ball and Margaret Dumont from the Marx Brothers movies. Some of the characters are so focused on being straight-laced that at times it feels like a Monty Python skit could break out.

In a side plot, the Lynnfield Bugle newspaper is running excerpts from the novel, while the Lynnfield Literary Circle is doing all it can to stop this (seriously).

If anything, there might be some local humor value to the dialogue that makes this one worth adding to the online queue - mainly because somebody seems to mention "Lynnfield" at least once a minute, often in a smirk- or chuckle-inducing context.

"You can't keep civilization out of Lynnfield forever!" the publisher of the Lynnfield Bugle tells the ladies of the Lynnfield Literary Circle early in the movie. On a side note, I think the publisher's character might be played by the same actor who was Uncle Billy in "It's a Wonderful Life."

In another scene, Theodora declares that "they want the story stopped, and if it isn't, the Lynnfield Bugle is going to find itself in lots of scrapple!" The movie is essentially a product of its time. Other now-funny-sounding quotes are "It's a nice day of the week to be whistling a jig on the street!" and "This is the end! Half of Lynnfield is marching by to see that lunatic!"

The movie's Wikipedia page says it was written by Mary McCarthy, with a place of birth not immediately found, and Sidney Buchman, a Minnesota native. The director was Richard Boleslawski, a native of Poland.

To locals, the dialog at times almost feels like some creative Lynnfield native back in the '30s jumped on a train to Hollywood and shook his fist saying, "Whyyy, I'll show that little town!" But the relatively scant information available on this 75-year-old movie suggests it's more likely that the name was pretty much just chosen at random and then stuck because it sounded like the kind of setting the writers wanted to convey.

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