The Bride Goes Wild (1948)
This was the third of five films starring June Allyson and Van Johnson (not counting Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) in which they both appeared but not in the same scenes.) They’d first worked together in Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), which featured Allyson’s first leading role. Then it was High Barbaree (1947) and The Bride Goes Wild (1948), followed by Too Young to Kiss (1951) and Remains to Be Seen (1953).
Fortunately, they were good pals off-screen with a friendship that started even before they made it in Hollywood. Their relationship translated to excellent onscreen chemistry: they were the all-American boy and girl next door, and people loved watching them. MGM knew they had a good thing going, which explains the numerous onscreen pairings of the duo.
Allyson and Johnson’s onscreen fizz was so believable that many fans assumed they were a couple offscreen, too. The studio encouraged that belief and even supported dual Johnson-Allyson fan clubs!
So profitable was their partnership that MGM head Louis B. Mayer tried to get the pair to date in real life. He was reportedly furious when Allyson told him she was going to marry Dick Powell in 1945. Powell was thirteen years older than Allyson, and it wasn’t quite the adorable romance that Mayer wanted for his sweet little star.
Besides, just think of how MGM could have capitalized on a real life wedding between Johnson and Allyson! Unfortunately for Mayer and MGM, the pair remained just friends and found romantic partners elsewhere.
In fact, two years after Allyson got married, Johnson married Evie Wynn (the day after she divorced Keenan Wynn), in a marriage that was at least partly for PR. There were rumors about Johnson’s sexuality, and MGM wanted him to be married. You can read more about that story here.
But even after Allyson and Johnson were “off the market,” fans still believed they were in love with each other. It didn’t help that they were such good friends. For example, Allyson remembered in her biography, A Most Improbable Star, that one year the Powells and Johnsons celebrated Halloween together with their children. When Johnson and Allyson opened the door to trick-or-treaters, one of the kids blurted out, “See, I told you they were married in real life, too.”
They do make a cute couple! But they don’t start out this way in The Bride Goes Wild. Instead, they follow that tried and true Hollywood romance trope of hating each other before slowly falling in love.
It goes like this: Greg Rawlings (Van Johnson) is a somewhat debauched guy who hates kids and loves drinking. He’s also the author behind the wildly popular “Uncle Bumps” children’s books.
Greg and his publisher work hard to keep his scandalous identity a secret: the world mustn’t know that Uncle Bumps is really an alcoholic bachelor with a taste for cigarette girls!
The film opens on the lobby of McGrath Publishing House. It’s storybook themed and filled with women in Mother Goose and Princess costumes. I want to go to there.
John McGrath (Hume Cronyn) is a capable executive with a scarily efficient secretary named Miss Doberly, played by the great Una Merkel. Fun fact: Hume Cronyn was married to actress Jessica Tandy from 1942 until her death in 1994.
John and Miss Doberly are reaching the end of a nationwide contest to find an illustrator for the next Uncle Bumps book, The Bashful Bull. Three children choose the winner: Martha Terryton (June Allyson), a schoolteacher from Vermont.
Martha is thrilled to get the chance to work with the wonderful Uncle Bumps, so she heads to New York amid much fanfare. She leaves behind her two aunts and her boyfriend, Bruce, who seems rather dull. You can watch the scene here.
But Uncle Bumps is not really so wonderful. In fact, he shows up at the McGrath building with a terrible hangover. He left a $400 bar tab at his last stop and needs money. Also, his ex-fiancee is coming to town so he wants to flee to Bermuda.
This is not the first time that John has had to clean up Greg’s mess. But apparently the Uncle Bumps books make so much money that it’s worth the trouble. Plus, John is Greg’s friend so he doesn’t mind trying to help him.
But he still chastises Greg for not adhering to his agreement to be “wholesome” as befits the famous author of children’s books. It reminds me of the “morality clauses” included in many stars’ contracts at the time. Step out of line or damage the star image so carefully crafted around you, and you would be in trouble!
Anyway, Greg appears chastened but immediately goes back to his rascally ways when he sees lovely Martha Templeton waiting outside of John’s office. He begins flirting with her and gets pretty aggressive about it, despite her clear disapproval. But he finally convinces her to get coffee with him by claiming that if he is alone he will turn to liquor. A well-meaning teetotaler like her can’t just stand by and let him fall! Sneaky.
Greg takes Martha to an undersea themed restaurant (it looks amazing!) where the cigarette girls wear mermaid costumes, and the waiters are pirates or divers.
He orders two “coffee Tasmanians” but doesn’t tell Martha that the drink is a little bit of a coffee with a big slosh of brandy. She’s too prim and inexperienced to recognize what she’s drinking. Besides, it’s delicious! A table full of coffee Tasmanians later, and she’s totally drunk. Greg plays with her curls and listens to her ramble.
(Notice that they’re drinking their “coffee” out of tea cups. For more on that, read my History Through Hollywood: 2nd Edition.)
Tipsy Martha keeps talking about how wonderful Uncle Bumps is, and how honored she is to be working with him. After all, he is “the modern day Hans Christian Anderson!” She thinks that Uncle Bumps is a very old, very gentle man, and she has no idea that he is actually the rascal tricking her with brandy!
But a waiter spills the beans when he asks Greg to autograph an Uncle Bumps book. Martha is horrified and ashamed and hurries back to the office.
She drunkenly tells Miss Doberly and John that she knows about Greg/Uncle Bumps and that he took her out and got her drunk. That’s alarming in itself, but then it comes out that Martha’s cousin is the formidable Ellen Oldfield, a big deal in the literary world. Ellen is a “moral guardian,” feared by publishers and authors because of her propensity to call for book bans and boycotts of anything she deems unsavory. She also doesn’t approve of drinking…
Martha is staying with Ellen during the six weeks she will be in New York, so now John has a problem. He can’t let Martha tell Ellen about Greg or the whole Uncle Bumps brand could come crashing down.
John and Miss Doberly convince Martha to give Greg another chance. They try to elicit her sympathy by explaining why Greg behaves so badly: his fiancee, Tillie Smith, with whom he was madly in love, left him for a richer man and Greg has never gotten over the betrayal. But that story doesn’t work with Martha, even though it’s true.
So they lie and claim that Greg drinks because his wife died, and now he is raising a very troublesome son all alone. Like juvenile delinquent-troublesome. Martha is very softhearted, especially where kids are concerned. So she decides to give Greg another chance.
Now it’s up to John to convince Greg to go along with this story and to find a child to be Greg’s son. Greg hates children, but he agrees to play the role of widowed father so that the Uncle Bumps empire can stay intact. Also, John promises to let him go to Bermuda if he cooperates.
John goes to an orphanage that the publishing house often uses as a focus group for their children’s books. He asks to “borrow” Danny, the worst kid there (played by child star Jackie “Butch” Jenkins). The head of the orphanage is fine with the plan, which seems a little strange. Do men often ask to take kids for the day?
Anyway, John brings Danny to Greg’s apartment and they explain the plan. The promise of some cash convinces Danny to call Greg “Dad.” He’s a smart little kid. He also looks like Greg with all of his freckles!
Fun fact: Jackie Jenkins first appeared onscreen in The Human Comedy (1943) when he was just six-years-old. Over the next few years, he acted in several films, including National Velvet (1944) and Boys’ Ranch (1946) before he “retired” after Big City (1948) at the old age of eleven. This was his penultimate film.
Danny lives up to his juvenile delinquent reputation by climbing onto the balcony ledge and putting ants all around the apartment (his favorite trick). Martha is shocked at Danny’s misbehavior and suddenly understands why Greg relies on the bottle for comfort.
The plan has worked! John is about to take Danny back to the orphanage when Martha comes back and decides she wants to help Danny and Greg. She suggests a picnic–maybe Danny just needs fresh air and room to do normal “boy things!”
The picnic goes fine until Greg gets tired of Martha’s questions about his (fictional) wife and son. He accuses her of being a fussbudget, a nosy prude, and a spinster! She is offended, naturally. He also starts calling her “Vermont” instead of Miss Terryton, and he mocks her long, old-fashioned hair. Shocking!
But then they both get caught in traps somewhat inexplicably left around the countryside.
You can watch it here:
The film cuts to Greg’s apartment where Martha puts Danny to bed and tends to Greg’s injured hand. She’s awfully motherly to people she purports to dislike. The cozy domestic scene is ruined when Tillie (Arlene Dahl in her second film), Greg’s ex-fiancee, shows up. Her rich husband recently died and left her an enormous fortune, and now she has returned to win Greg back. She got her money; now she can focus on love. She’s despicable but very glamorous, especially when compared to prim and proper Martha.
Silly Greg can’t resist Tillie’s wiles and kisses her while Danny and Martha watch. That sends Martha skedaddling home. She doesn’t see Greg send Tillie away, and she definitely doesn’t see him rouse Danny from bed and take him back to the orphanage that night!
The next day, John and Miss Doberly are waiting at the docks to send Greg off to Bermuda. But he doesn’t show up. He has decided to stay in New York and finish his book there. But it’s not about a bull anymore–it’s now “Auggie the Ant!” Greg was inspired by Danny’s ant pranks and the ideas started flowing.
Meanwhile, Martha decides not to illustrate the book because she doesn’t want to work with such a deplorable man. Though she actually has a crush on him so her heart is bruised. But then she changes her mind and decides to work on the book after all. She sends Bruce (Richard Derr), her boyfriend from Vermont, to Greg’s apartment to wait for her there. Poor Greg gets rather beat up by Bruce’s inadvertent clumsiness. Think golf balls flying through the apartment, and golf clubs getting caught in Greg’s typewriter tape. It’s a scene of comic accidents and pratfalls that certainly humbles arrogant Greg.
Martha eventually arrives and surprises Greg with her short hair and new look. Haven’t we seen that striped concoction before? Why yes, on Tillie! Bold to wear the exact same outfit as your rival the evening after she wore it…
The next day, Greg takes his manuscript to the orphanage to show Danny. He also brings him an ant farm, and Greg’s kindness seems to overwhelm the kid. Danny says that he can try to be a better boy! It’s more poignant than you’d think, but it gets funny when Danny starts removing the frogs, jack-in-the-boxes, and other pranks he had hidden around the orphanage. Greg watches with growing shock as he sees just how many nasty little “surprises” Danny had set up.
This movie goes for the somewhat naive message that if you’re nice to a “bad” kid, he will be so touched and grateful for your kindness that he will immediately become good. Love is the answer! It’s cute.
Anyway, Martha returns to Greg’s apartment with new illustrations. Greg loves the artwork, and before you know it they are engaged. Yeah, it’s weird. I guess whimsical drawings of insects are the fastest way to a man’s heart. Remember that, ladies.
They’re planning to get married in a few days (well, they have known each other for almost a week!) before he remembers that Martha still thinks he has a son! That’s awkward. Surely she will be disgusted at his lie and call off their engagement when she finds out the truth.
And that’s exactly what happens. Martha randomly goes to have lunch at the orphanage, so John and Greg hurry over to hide Danny. But he’s hard to find– the kids are playing “Indian” because the dentist is there and the game “takes their mind off the drill,” or so says the orphanage director. John and Greg get caught up in the game as they search for Danny, who is with the dentist refusing to open his mouth.
The truth comes out when all the concerned parties run into each other, as we knew they would. Martha is understandably furious and hurt. She flees New York for Vermont and gets engaged to Bruce. Greg flees the city, too, but heads to Tillie’s lake house. He’s fallen back into all of his bad patterns.
Meanwhile, Danny finds out that Martha and Bruce plan to adopt him as soon as they are married. He likes Martha but he hates Bruce, so he escapes the orphanage and somehow finds Greg. They’d better do something fast, because Martha is getting married that very day! Hurray for deadlines!
Greg, Danny, and Tillie rush to Vermont to talk with Martha. Greg tells her that she should let him adopt Danny because Danny hates Bruce. She explains that you have to be married to adopt a child, so Greg gives up. Martha seems disappointed that he didn’t beg her to marry him then and there…
Greg tells Danny that he can’t adopt him. Then he leaves. It’s very sad.
Greg and Tillie stop for drinks, and she says that if he really likes Danny so much, why don’t they get married and adopt him! Greg is delighted until Tillie starts talking about this great boarding school in Wyoming, and how nice it will be to see Danny every Christmas, and of course he can’t live with them because they will be traveling! Greg realizes that she doesn’t actually want Danny, and that the idea of marrying Tillie doesn’t seem very appealing anymore, anyway. He’s finally over her! And in love with Martha!
Greg calls Danny and tells him that he wants to marry Martha and adopt him. But he needs Danny to delay the wedding until he gets there. Danny has been preparing for this moment his whole life!
He puts ants in the wedding guests’ shoes and clothes, and then sends ants flying through the air with a fan.
Meanwhile, Greg asks a local if he can borrow his car to drive to Martha’s house. But Miss Doberly and John, whose car broke down while they were searching for Greg, were towed by the same vehicle that Greg just commandeered! And they are still attached! It’s a wild car chase.
And it’s another of the many comic/slapstick set pieces peppered throughout this movie. You know what’s going to happen–they will get to Martha’s house–but it will take a few minutes because the movie has some gags lined up! It’s the same thing that happened at the orphanage when Martha found out about Danny, and the Bruce/Greg apartment scene, and Martha getting drunk on coffee Tasmanian. This movie has a simple plot, but lots of winding detours to allow for comic moments.
Anyway, the wedding begins but when Martha walks down the aisle, her guests squirm, jump, and giggle in ant-induced chaos! It’s not the wedding she was hoping for.
They halt the proceedings until everyone calms down, which gives Greg the moment he needed. He proposes to Martha and tells her he wants to adopt Danny. When Bruce gets mad (he has a perfect right to!), Greg defends Danny and punches Bruce. Martha is absolutely delighted!
Then the new family rushes out the door and gets into John and Miss Doberly’s towed car. The practically blind driver tows them straight into a billboard and across a plowed field. It’s quite the bumpy start to their new life together! (Sorry.)
Even though the movie is called “The Bride Goes Wild,” no one wears a wedding dress until the last four minutes! (But it’s a stunner designed by MGM costume designer Helen Rose.) And Martha doesn’t really go that wild. After all, she gets married and adopts a child. The New York Times critic, Bosley Crowther, agreed that the title of this film was silly, writing that “In the first place, that title means nothing—absolutely nothing at all. More appropriate to the evident activities would be ‘The Picture Goes Wild.'”
But The Bride Goes Wild is a fun title, and also may have been intended to reference the 1936 film Theodora Goes Wild starring Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas.
Although this is not a remake, the two films do share some features: New York City, an author hiding her true identity, a teetotaler who accidentally gets drunk, a small town girl who lives with her two aunts, and a sophisticated city dweller who can’t break out of a bad relationship but enjoys taunting the prim and proper country gal. And there’s a child. The similarities seem too marked to have the titles be a coincidence, but I’m not sure. After all, the working title of the film was Virtuous. I’m glad they changed it.
This movie was in production in June through August of 1947 and premiered the next March. As I mentioned, Allyson and Johnson were very good friends and had worked together several times before, so shooting was pleasant, except for when the pals cracked each other up. Apparently the filming of one scene caused the stars to laugh so much that the director, Norman Taurog, actually called off shooting for the day because they couldn’t get anything done!
When they reassembled the next day, Taurog shot the pair’s close-ups for the scene separately, and the actor not being filmed was asked to remain away from the set! Taurog also ordered Allyson and Johnson not to speak to each other when they weren’t filming. Anything to keep the giggles to a minimum!
Bosley Crowther wrote in his review that the film progresses from “comparative intelligence” to “reckless disorder,” but it is “a tolerable progression. For — in the second place — Albert Beich, who is credited with the story, apparently finished his script in a burst of inventive flashes while the company was waiting on the set — flashes which Director Norman Taurog ably got into fast action for the screen—such things as auto ‘chases’ and a mad game of ‘Indians’ with some kids. And, in the third place, little Butch Jenkins plays the youngster in the case, which provides the film with a personality that is both humorous and genuine.”
Furthermore, Van Johnson is amusing in a breezy and baffled way as the complicated author…And June Allyson is remarkably appealing as the girl who comes to illustrate his book and remains, after all the gymnastics, to draw on his joint check account. What with Hume Cronyn, a clown, too, as a highly distraught publisher and Arlene Dahl, a very good-looker, as a rival gal, the show is okay.
Not the highest of praise, but then Crowther wasn’t usually an effusive reviewer!
Allyson and Johnson reprised their roles for a Screen Guild Theater radio play in May 1949, and then again for a Lux Radio Theatre version in June 1950. They both continued their reign as popular stars into the next decades on screen and television, and they would make two more movies together.
As for the other actors, The Bride Goes Wild was Hume Cronyn’s last MGM film. He had been at the studio for five years, but he left after this film and began working for various studios. He continued acting into the 1990s.
Una Merkel was a true Hollywood veteran who began her film career in 1924 and worked steadily as a character actor into the 1960s. You may recognize her from any number of scene-stealing roles, including True Confession (1937), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Bundle of Joy (1956) and The Parent Trap (1961).
Arlene Dahl, who doesn’t get much screen time in this movie, would go on to a career as a leading lady in the 1950s, and she married Fernando Lamas in 1954. He was her second of six husbands.
Oddly enough, the youngest actor in the movie retired first. As I mentioned, this was Jackie Jenkins’ penultimate film. He stopped acting after Big City (1948) when he was only eleven.