Drink of the Week: Theodora Goes Wild (TCM Fest 2017 Salute #4)

Theodora Goes Wild.So, we’re back with this year’s fourth and final salute to the TCM Fest 2017. While this year’s festival was tinged with sadness, largely because of the departure from our planetary sphere of people like Robert Osbourne, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, I can also honestly say I had as good a time as ever. It’s largely the fact that, even for a committed geek like me, there’s always the chance to discover movies that I might have missed before, or if I did see them, it was in a beat-up print on the second half of a double bill on a weekday night when I was the worse for wear and in no shape to absorb good cinema.

Indeed, I honestly can’t remember whether or not I’d ever seen 1936’s “Theodora Goes Wild” before this year. However, I now know that it’s easily one of the smartest and most iconoclastic films in the cycle of screwball romantic comedies that ran through the 1930s and 1940s. The film stars Irene Dunne as a seemingly super-upright, small-town spinster (today we call them “adult single women”) who is secretly the author of an allegedly steamy bestselling novel; her costar is the invariably roguish Melvin Douglas as a troublemaker who gets more than he bargained for when he needles the beautiful writer, presuming she is a teetotaler. She takes offense at the suggestion and, careful to put him in his place, she¬†orders a “straight whiskey,” and then another, and another.

To say that hijinks ensue is really not honoring my cliches correctly. It’s both funny and gently satirical in the way of the best screwballs. It’s not as well-known as other films in the cycle, perhaps because it’s director, the very talented, Polish-born Richard Boleslawski, died shortly after “Theodora Goes Wild” was released. With an outstanding script by Sidney Buchman and Mary McCarthy, it stands up with the best of them.

And so does my drink, especially if you like your good and straight. Sure, when Ms. Dunne’s character ordered “straight whiskey,” she probably meant without water, ice or soda, but straight whiskey also refers to an unblended bourbon or rye. And since the title is “Theodora Goes Wild” and not “Theodora Gets Mildly Tipsy,” I figured it better be strong and plentiful. So, here we go…

Theodora Goes Wild

3 (!) ounces straight rye or bourbon — 90 proof or more!
1/2 ounce elderflower liqueur
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 cocktail cherry (desirable but non-essential garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker, and stir or shake. (I prefer stirring.) Strain into a large, well-chilled cocktail glass and throw in the cherry, if you’ve got it. Ponder my personal belief that we should practice moderation in all things, including moderation.


First, a warning. I really like this drink, but it’s very, very strong and never failed to hit me like a ton of bricks. You could mild it up slightly by going 80 proof with the whiskey, but then all you’ve really got is a (still very strong) spin on a Manhattan….not quite my idea of the kind of drink that could turn a person’s life pleasantly upside-down. Still, on most sane evenings, one of these should be more than enough, and don’t even think about getting behind the wheel.

As for my brands this time, I used three different whiskies. The mellowest was 90.4 proof Woodford Reserve Straight Rye, a really terrific brew and sweet as ryes go. On the other hand, there was something to be said for the delightfully fiery result I got with Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon. The sternest of the three was definitely Hochstatdter’s 100 proof straight rye.

As for the elderflower liqueur, St. Germain is pretty much the go-to brand, and it’s pretty marvelous stuff that you can actually drink straight. Still, I also happened to have a small bottle of a delicious but ridiculously expensive boutique liqueur I bought a couple of years ago. I’d tell you the name of the shop where I got it, but it’s not printed on the bottle and I don’t have the slightest recollection of the place’s name. Let that be a lesson to any small boozemakers out there. In any case, as befits it’s price, the stuff is slightly better and more complex than St. Germain and resulted in an ever-so-slightly better drink. Really, though, I pretty much loved every version I made of Theodora Goes Wild, especially after I’d consumed them.

And that’s it for this year’s TCM Fest Salute. If you missed this year’s earlier entries, you can see them here, here and here.

Oh, and it turns out that “Theodora Goes Wild” is available for free on YouTube. Let’s go to the movies!