A misleading title, preposterous storyline, improbable romance, seriously questionable if not outright morally reprehensible behavior, and ants – The Bride Goes Wild has all that and more! While it’s probably my least favorite Van Johnson and June Allyson pairing, it’s still highly enjoyable to watch. This of course is due to Van and June’s chemistry, which overpowers anything else that’s not up to par. Individually they are powerful, but together, they are unstoppable.
This movie is actually a bit sinister without meaning to be. Characters enable bad behavior by trying to hide it or by throwing money at the problem. I wouldn’t dare try to psychoanalyze the movie though; it’s thoroughly ridiculous and has no deeper meaning, sinister or otherwise.
I love Van and think he was such a terrific actor who rarely got credit for it. Not only in his prestigious films, but in ones like The Bride Goes Wild. This time he plays Greg Rawlings, a cynic who hates kids. (Two of my least favorite types of people). Greg also happens to be a beloved children’s author under the pen name Uncle Bumps. No one knows his true identity except for his publishers. Bumps’ latest book is called The Bashful Bull. Almost Disneyesque, to quote Michael Eisner.
This is the winning illustration for the book, as chosen by three child judges. The illustrator is Vermont school teacher Martha Terryton (June Allyson), who will go to New York to work with Bumps on the book.
Martha gets a big send off at the train station, surrounded by a crowd and accompanied by her weeping aunts and her fiance, Bruce. She assures her aunts that she’s going to be just fine out in New York City, that it’s not so different from Vermont! She also tells Bruce not to worry because Uncle Bumps is an elderly man. And then she stands up on her tiptoes so he can kiss her forehead, and that is all. No passionate lip lock or embrace.
So that’s Martha. Now we get to meet Uncle Bumps himself. Greg is a bit of a disaster. He shows up to his publisher’s nursing a hangover and carrying empty bottles of liquor. He’s just returned from one of his playboy weekends and he’s caused a lot of trouble. That’s what he spends his time doing when he’s not writing wholesome children’s books.
It’s the sort of trouble that his publisher, John McGrath (Hume Cronyn) always has to bail him out of, usually through buying someone’s silence. Greg does promise McGrath that he will write The Bashful Bull, and on his way out the office, he spots Martha. He starts to flirt with her immediately. I’m sure any woman would relish the attention, but not prim and uptight Martha. “Well if those aren’t cute!” Greg says, in reference to her shoes, and then he actually crouches down so he can get a better look at her legs.
Marta covers up her legs and sternly tells Greg to go home, but he’s persistent and eventually rifles through her drawings. When he learns that she’s going to illustrate The Bashful Bull, they start talking about Uncle Bumps. She likens him to Hans Christen Anderson but Greg badmouths him. He persuades Martha to go out with him, taking advantage of her helpful nature. Teetotaling Martha is supposed to keep him away from liquor. Oh boy.
Greg takes her to a lagoon themed restaurant where he orders them both coffee tazmanians. It’s coffee with brandy, which Martha is suspicious of when she first tastes it, but Greg waves away her concerns. Despite Martha’s dull life back home and her propriety, he’s taken a keen interest in her. By now they’ve had many more cups of coffee and are tipsy. It’s really one of the most memorable scenes in their films, although there is something uncomfortable about a man getting a woman drunk without her knowledge. I don’t think director Norman Taurog was intentionally condoning this kind of behavior, and the humor does mask the ickiness of it all. I don’t think you’d find a scene like this in any movies today.
Greg is very interested in what Martha has to say now. She tells him about her tendencies, why she can’t ever touch a drop of liquor after an incident when she was a teenager, how her father was a terrible drinker and artist, and how Bruce had the nerve to monitor her tendencies. “I’ll watch my own tendencies!” she pouts. This scene is such a cut up and seeing Van and Junie like this is a major win for me. He even blows in her ear!
“Don’t you think that’s a bit intimate?”
“Yes I do.”
Thankfully however, lest we be too bewitched by Greg, his charade is uncovered. But that’s not all. To Martha’s astonishment, this wicked man is Uncle Bumps himself! She storms out of there, knocking the table with all the cups over as Greg tries to make her stay. Martha may be small and naive, but she can clearly handle herself.
Martha heads back to McGrath and we get some more wonderful tipsy acting from Ms. Allyson. “I’m pie eyed!” she sobs in anguish to explain that she was drinking, and that she was tricked by that terrible Mr. Rawlings. So now here’s another problem to be covered up, but it won’t be so easy for McGrath this time around. Martha’s aunt just happens to be a moral crusader who bans books and anything else with objectionable content. Once Martha tells the truth about the real Uncle Bumps, he’ll be done for.
Now all of this has happened in the first 25 minutes of this film’s runtime. What fresh new nonsense awaits? Well, just about the most outrageous scheme that could only exist in a Classic Hollywood film. McGrath’s brilliant idea is to make Greg a father; a father of a very badly behaved young boy who causes him to act in such ways. ????? And they’re going to even “borrow” a kid from the orphanage to play the part. Again, ????? Greg refuses because he’s an avowed kid hater after all, but he reluctantly agrees for McGrath’s sake. They end up choosing the worst behaved boy, Danny (the adorable freckled face Butch Jenkins), who torments all the others. And there’s even a resemblance between him and Greg. Danny also loves ants.
“Oh, you don’t like women.”
“Pat ya on the head. Do you like ’em?”
“What do they do to you?”
“Snitch on me.”
Martha falls for the ruse and agrees to illustrate The Bashful Bull once more, but she insists on helping Greg too. She invites herself to their father-son picnic, where she further annoys Greg by poking into his love life. He’s still in love with his old flame Tilly (Arlene Dahl) who went off and married another man. This is another really great scene, where Greg slyly takes Martha’s hair out of its bun. He insults her too, and calls her a spinster. Well, Martha’s temper comes out and she shoves him into Danny’s trap, where a rope is waiting, coils itself around his ankles, and suspends him upside down. Martha taunts him but soon after, she falls into a ditch.
This film is also really great at slapstick. Bruce shows up at Greg’s apartment to meet Martha so they can go out. He plays golf while waiting for Martha and irritates the hell out of Greg, who doesn’t say or do anything beyond a forced smile. Van has some brilliant facial expressions and he also gets hit plenty.
You can’t guess how this movie ends, but of course you know a romance will blossom between these two. But Tilly has reappeared in Greg’s life, which complicates things. And Danny, who is the innocent version of Greg, becomes attached to him and Martha. He can be good. So can Greg.
Greg and Martha both have their flaws, or tendencies if you will, and they can be a bit unbearable. So it’s plausible that these two wackos end up together. When Greg kisses Martha, there’s so much passion in it. Not at all like Bruce. It’s one of the pair’s most swoon worthy kisses; the way he kisses her once, and then grabs her shoulders and plants an even deeper one. It’s too much!
“I’m not standing on the floor at all.”
“And you’re not coming down either. You’re going to be up there for good.”
The Bride Goes Wild does have its tender moments especially where Danny is concerned, but ultimately, it’s just so absurd. I’m not a fan of the abrupt ending but it actually does work in favor of the movie, because it is so wacky and random. Something else that totally works:
Van is still charismatic as a cad. And one with the ability to outgrow his tendencies. It’s a very believable and funny performance from him. Maybe the material isn’t stellar, but my guy always is.
Our favorite hunk was born today in 1916, and you can read a lot more posts celebrating him for Michaela’s blogathon below.