Van and June are perfection in... The Bride Goes Wild (1948)

What do you get when you mix America's boy- and girl-next-door, one juvenile delinquent, an exasperated publisher and his efficient secretary, a terrifically funny script, and a whole lot of ants? Norman Taurog's 1948 comedy The Bride Goes Wild. I fell in love with this film less than a year ago and it isn't hard to see why. Starring my beloved Van Johnson and lovely June Allyson in their third of five films together, The Bride Goes Wild is one of those screwball comedies that Hollywood occasionally made after their heyday in the '30s. In addition to the skills of Taurog, Johnson, and Allyson, this movie boasts the talents of Hume Cronyn, Una Merkel, Arlene Dahl in her second film role, and brief child star Jackie "Butch" Jenkins.

June Allyson and Van Johnson were one of classic Hollywood's greatest teams. If you know me, you'll know that I rate Esther Williams as one of Van's best partners and vice versa. Perhaps the only other woman who could give Esther a run for her money is June. MGM hit the jackpot when they put these two redheads together. Both were promoted as wholesome and all-American as warm apple pie. With Van's freckles and June's raspy voice, they were considered sweet and lovable, their films doing little to dispel that notion.

The duo weren't just screen partners; they were best friends as well. Before either made it big in Hollywood in the early '40s, they met in New York while doing theater work and instantly felt a kinship. Both were crazy about the movies and spent their days dreaming about when they'd become like their heroes Spencer Tracy and Margaret Sullavan. When they did become stars, their home studio, MGM, tried in vain to get them to date. They even created joint fan clubs for Van and June!

Let's get to the film, though, so you can see for yourself the magic between our leads!

Cheery John McGrath (Cronyn) arrives at his publishing house, which specializes in children's stories. We can tell McGrath takes his business seriously -- the lobby has a storybook theme with employees dressed as characters! It's fun. Anyway, McGrath meets with some of the press in his office to gush about the company's most popular author, Uncle Bumps, and his current work-in-progress The Bashful Bull. McGrath Publishing has been holding a contest to see who will illustrate this new book, and the winner is lucky Ms. Martha Terryton, a schoolteacher from Cook's Junction, Vermont. We cut to Martha (Allyson) leaving her hometown and saying goodbye to her family and her boyfriend, Bruce. There's
an adorable moment where Allyson offers her cheek to her aunts to kiss and then she earnestly stands on her tiptoes to offer her forehead for tall Bruce to kiss.

Martha makes it to New York and goes to see McGrath. While she is sitting in his outer office, his secretary, Ms. Doberly (Merkel), gives him the bad news that Uncle Bumps is at it again -- in addition to sending over a large bar tab, he is on his way to Canada, and he has a hotel wanting to sue him for damages. Say it ain't so, Bumps! McGrath instructs a lackey to do the usual, i.e. pay people off. He then meets with Martha, who is super excited to be
such an esteemed author's illustrator. During publicity photos with Martha, McGrath is informed by Ms. Doberly that "a certain package" has been delivered. All he needs to hear are the sounds of things being knocked over in his office to know that it's Uncle Bumps, whose real name is Greg Rawlings (Johnson). McGrath finds Greg hungover in his office and chastises him for making it so hard to maintain Bumps's clean-cut image. Greg promises to abstain from booze and broads while finishing his book, but it is obvious that he doesn't plan on keeping that promise once he sees Martha.

Greg immediately lays it on thick, much to Martha's annoyance. After discovering that she is his new illustrator, he tries to charm her into getting a drink with him. It's not a good tact since Martha overheard his promise to McGrath and since she is a teetotaler. She rejects the offer, but when he changes the drink from beer to coffee, she agrees to go along to help keep him sober. The bar Greg steers them to is simply amazing. Its nautical theme is taken to the extreme: cigarette girls are in mermaid costumes, waiters are dressed as pirates and deep-sea divers, bubbles are floating through the air. I demand someone make this place a reality. Greg orders two "coffees Tasmanian," which have oodles of brandy unbeknownst to Martha. Finding the drink to be delicious, it doesn't take long for her to become snockered. After many cups, she has unbuttoned her jacket and taken off her hat, her loose curls just begging to be tugged by a bemused Greg.


This might just be my favorite scene from this whole film. It is simultaneously hilarious, winsome, and unbelievably cute. Van and June are both so delightful. The silliness is soon put on hold, though, when a waiter (Tom Dugan) stops by to get Uncle Bumps's autograph. He has also brought them more coffee and brandy, making Martha realize that not only did Greg get her drunk, he is also not at all the kindly old man she expected to be working with. Horrified, she runs away. You can watch it here.

Sneaking into McGrath's office to retrieve her portfolio, Martha is caught by the publisher and Ms. Doberly as she crawls to the door. Ashamed of her drunken state, she sobs about Greg's trickiness. When she comments that her cousin Ellen, who she is staying with, wouldn't approve of how her afternoon went, McGrath and Ms. Doberly surmise that this cousin is Ellen Oldfield, a feared woman in the publishing industry because of her ability to ban and boycott anything she determines to be threats to the morality of the youth. Terrified that Ellen could find out about Uncle Bumps and send their empire crashing down, McGrath and Ms. Doberly explain that Greg had his heart broken, causing him to drink. Although it is
the truth, Martha is still miffed.

The next morning, a panicked McGrath goes to Greg's apartment, where he finds a suggestive mermaid's tail and a diver's helmet in the living room (*wolf whistle*). The publisher warns Greg about cousin Ellen and says that while he was sobering up Martha last night, he lied that Greg is a widower and a father to an unruly son, hence his drinking. Once Martha sees the kid, there'll be no more trouble. Greg hates children, though, so he isn't keen on the idea.


He also has something else to worry about. His ex-girlfriend Tillie, the woman who ran off and married a wealthier man, is coming to town soon. Greg wants to get the hell out of there before she does, especially since Tillie's husband recently died, leaving her free to get her claws back into Greg. McGrath agrees to pay for his friend's ticket out of New York, but only if he helps smooth things over with Martha first. It's a (reluctantly made) deal. By the way, can we just sit back and appreciate Van's zebra print shorts for a minute? They're glorious and he looks amazing in them.

McGrath goes to the Brindley Home for Boys, an orphanage that the publishing house frequently uses as a focus group for their books. McGrath asks the director if he can borrow one of the kids to help with Greg's book. Since Brindley often works with McGrath Publishing, the director agrees to it and Danny (Jackie "Butch" Jenkins) is selected since he is the most troublesome kid there. When Danny and Greg meet, it's dislike and distrust at first sight, but with the promise of cash, Danny goes with the plan. After seeing the mayhem Danny causes around Greg's apartment, Martha falls for the gag and decides to help Greg by going on a picnic in the country with Danny and him. Considering this means
that Danny won't be going back to the orphanage immediately like he planned, Greg is less than pleased.

At the picnic, Danny plays while Greg and Martha talk. She asks him question after question about his deceased wife, Danny, and Tillie, a particularly sore subject. Becoming irritated, Greg insultingly calls Martha a "spinster" and a "fussbudget" until she pushes him into an animal trap that leaves him dangling from a tree. She then turns around and falls into another trap herself. On the bus ride back to New York, the man sleeping next to Danny and Martha is awoken by the boy's jar of ants crawling on him. He yells
at Danny, causing he and Greg to have a brawl offscreen.

Back at the apartment, Danny is thrilled that Greg stuck up for him and Martha offers to nurse his hand. Still keeping up the ruse and wanting to be alone with Martha, Greg tells Danny it's his bedtime. What he doesn't realize is that Danny was moved by Greg's fight on the bus, so when he is told to go to bed, he sees it as Greg warming up to him, which could lead to his adoption. The scenes with Danny can be so touching, but never in a schmaltzy way. The film doesn't linger too long on these moments, an example of its great pacing. Director Norman Taurog knew just when to slow things
down (June and Van's scenes) and when to pick them back up
                                                                                (the ending), making for a very enjoyable 98-minute film.

But back to the story. Martha is soaking Greg's hand, but before things go any further, the doorbell buzzes. Greg opens it to find the glamorous and beguiling Tillie (Arlene Dahl). It takes two seconds for Greg to become mesmerized again by her, leading Martha to decide it's time she left.


Alone on the terrace, Tillie admits she made a mistake in marrying another man, but she also manages to blame Greg for not fighting for her. (You get the sense that she had tried to create some drama by marrying someone else, but Greg didn't react as fiercely as she had planned.) Greg appears to be falling back under Tillie's spell when Martha sees them kissing after tucking Danny in. Once Tillie leaves, Martha is clearly upset and picks a fight with Greg that ends with her storming off. In a terrible mood, Greg finds Danny in his bed and callously tells him that he is going back to Brindley straight away.

The next morning, Greg is supposed to be sailing to Bermuda to escape Tillie, but he has decided to stay and write his story in New York instead. Feeling stumped by The Bashful Bull, he sees one of Danny's ants in front of him and gets the idea to change his book to Auggie the Ant. He then visits Danny, giving him an ant farm and telling him his new story to see if other kids would read it. Once again, Danny starts to get his hopes up about his adoption. He tells Greg that maybe he could try to reform so he can be a "good" kid and someone (*cough* Greg *cough*) will want him. Greg reads Danny's mind and quickly excuses himself.

Furiously typing at his home, Greg is waiting for Martha when her beau Bruce arrives instead. He explains that he is meeting Martha there before their date, which doesn't thrill Greg. While he goes back to his typing, Bruce amuses himself by (rudely) using the living room as a putting green with Greg's hat as the hole. There is a ton of physical comedy in this scene and let me tell you, pratfalls and mocking expressions look great on Van Johnson. Every time Bruce hits a golf ball, he makes a face that Greg amusingly imitates.

 


Then Bruce gets the golf club stuck in Greg's typewriter, creating a whole new fiasco. In the midst of this, the door buzzes and Greg answers it to find Martha in the exact same dress as Tillie the night before. She even cut her long hair! Greg cuts to the reason for their meeting, though -- since his book is no longer about a bull, he fires Martha as his illustrator. She reasons that she could draw an ant just as well as a bull, but Greg is feeling smug and so Martha leaves in a huff with Bruce.

She comes back the next day, however, to show Greg some sketches she has done of ants. They slowly work out the right look for Auggie and the intimacy and sweetness of the moment leads them to fall into each other's arms. They agree to get married in the morning, which is alarmingly fast, but that's old Hollywood for you. When McGrath arrives, Greg says he'll call Martha later and she leaves him the info of where she'll be. Seeing that it's Brindley (she had made friends with the director at the beginning of the film), Greg and McGrath race to stop Martha from running into Danny. This proves complicated since all of the boys are dressed as Native Americans as part of a game, making Danny quite difficult to find. Eventually, Martha discovers the truth and she is devastated. She refuses Greg's apology and Danny is let down again about his adoption.

With Martha back in Vermont, Greg has gone to Tillie's lake house, but he doesn't seem to be having much fun. Suddenly Danny appears, having run away from the orphanage. Martha and Bruce are going to be married and they're going to adopt Danny, despite the kid's dislike of Bruce. Greg decides to adopt Danny himself, so Tillie drives them all to Vermont to inform Martha. When Greg explains to her that Danny would rather be with him, Martha tells him that only married couples can adopt. You can tell that she is hoping he will propose again, but Greg remains unaware and sadly breaks the news to Danny that they can't be together. It's very poignant as Martha and Danny hold each other while Greg leaves.

In a bar some miles away from Martha's hometown, Greg is feeling pretty morose when Tillie offers to marry him so he can get Danny. Greg is elated -- until he realizes that Tillie plans on shipping Danny to a private school in Wyoming while they endlessly travel. It is also at this moment that Greg realizes that he really does love Martha. He rushes to the phone and tells Danny to stall the wedding any way he can. That's all the kid needs to hear! Since Tillie has left and taken her car with her, Greg gives money to the bartender to borrow his car. When they pull out of the garage, guess who happens to be hooked on the back of the vehicle because their own car stalled? McGrath and Ms. Doberly! They were on
their way to Martha's to retrieve her illustrations when their car broke down. Really, it's just an excuse to have all of the main cast together for the wacky finale. In his rush to stop the wedding, Greg's driving could be described as erratic at best. Meanwhile, Danny and his pesky ants are doing a great job at turning the wedding into chaos. Greg arrives right as Bruce angrily shakes Danny, admitting he doesn't like the kid in the process. When Martha sees that Greg was behind the turmoil, she is ecstatic -- and Bruce is injured, thanks to Danny's swift kick in the shin. The bride, the new groom, and their soon-to-be son hightail it out of the house and happily drive into the sunset. Actually, they drive
                                                                                      into a very bumpy field, but you get the idea.

Van and June are what make The Bride Goes Wild so much fun. The way they bounce off of each other is a joy to see, their close friendship enhancing their wonderful chemistry. While this worked in the film's favor, Norman Taurog became less than thrilled about it as production continued. The co-stars were cracking each other up incessantly, forcing Taurog to halt shooting one day. The next day, the director forbade June and Van from speaking to each other off-camera. He even isolated them to film their individual close-ups!

This film marked a bit of a departure for Van. Greg Rawlings is still essentially a nice guy, but he can also be a womanizing jerk. Because of Van's charm and likability, it is easy to overlook his rougher edges, which the film tries to soften by making him heartbroken over Tillie. Van is terrific at portraying Greg's pricklier side while still being hilarious, vulnerable, and endearing. This role fit Van superbly -- and let's face it, he looks superb in it too.

June is no slouch, either. She matches Van every step of the way with a performance that is just delicious. Although the script wants Martha to be prim and proper, June's warmth and vivacity shine through. What's nice is that Martha isn't made over into something she's not in order to snag Greg. Sure, she gets a haircut and a new dress, but her principles and her personality remain the same -- the person who has to change is Greg. June may look adorable, but she is no pushover.

My mom actually met June Allyson back in the 1980s and she can tell you that the woman was just as kind and charming as she was on the screen. My mom was a waitress at one of our local hotels and Ms. Allyson came in with a small group. As soon as Mom saw her, she went into the kitchen squealing "You guys, that's June Allyson!" No one knew who she was talking about! For the rest of the evening, my mom waited on June's table and now every time Mom sees me watching her, she sighs "She was the sweetest person."

I think that's June's legacy -- her generosity and her beautiful spirit touched so many people, and thanks to her enchanting body of work, they will continue to inspire, to give joy, and to comfort. Happy 100th birthday, Ms. Junie!



















































_________________

I'm pleased as punch to say this is my entry to the June Allyson Centenary Blogathon, hosted by lovely Simoa over at Champagne for Lunch. You can check out the rest of the roster here.

Comments

  1. OK, so I'm not the biggest fan of this movie, but I love my bubs in it so much. Like that scene where Greg takes Martha's hair out of the bun without her knowing...!! And their first kiss *____* Butch Jenkins is so endearing to me too, he wasn't really 'traditionally' adorable, but he was so precious, and I'm glad he and Van costarred in a movie together.

    I love how Van and June's fan clubs wanted them to get married and even picked out names for their future children. Vanjee for a girl, can you imagine?!

    Thanks for joining and for a terrific post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for having me along! I'm not a big fan of child actors (I'm a bit like Greg), but Butch Jenkins does a very good job in this film. He has great chemistry with Van, doesn't he?

      Oh god, not Vanjee! When I first read about that, I had to make sure I wasn't misreading it. It's funny how certain fans try to will things into being. Personally, I love that June and Van were best friends!

      Delete
  2. Aaaaaand, I might have to save a few of these screenshots, haha <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, please do! I've already printed one of them out to hang in my bedroom, haha.

      Delete
    2. So I actually rewatched this a couple days ago with your post in mind and LOVED it even more on second viewing. These two were just perfect together. Hume Cronyn is also very good and even though Una Merkel doesn't have much screen time, she's still great. And I completely forgot to mention that it's so cool that your mom met June!! <3

      Delete
    3. That's so wonderful to hear! The whole cast, from top to bottom, is just fantastic. I'm glad you found it more enjoyable this time around.

      Wasn't she lucky? The fact that we live in a small Indiana town makes it even more unbelievable. I'm so jealous.

      Delete
  3. This is the only Allyson feature TCM is showing tomorrow that I haven't yet seen, so I didn't read very many details in your article. However, the screen caps are tantalizing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I do hope you'll see it! It's pretty darn cute, if I do say so myself. Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  4. I didn't know June and Van were friends - this is such a cute information! I haven't seen this film yet, but I want to give it a chance - because, besides the duo, it has underrated Hume Cronyn, and I think he's always amazing.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should definitely give this movie a shot. You're right about Hume Cronyn -- he can be overlooked. I think you'll really like him in this film. He and Una Merkel are great together.

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete

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