They never literally came to our house, of course, but at least once or twice a year the 1963 romantic comedy The Thrill of It All was on TV. My parents would plan their entire weekend around its 108 minutes plus commercials.
They’d seen it at the theater on a rare and particularly memorable date night. It had special meaning for them of some sort. Certainly there was more to the story. But as a little kid I simply accepted that this Doris Day-James Garner romp was a film of some importance.
We’d make Jiffy Pop and gather around the Zenith to follow the story of unassuming housewife Beverly Boyer’s sudden and unexpected rise to fame as a glamorous TV spokesperson for Happy brand soap products. All well and good, of course, until Beverly’s husband Gerald, a successful obstetrician, becomes jealous of her newfound celebrity. As inevitably happens, mapcap, zany, hilarity ensues.
Of course it was actually Rock Hudson, not James Garner, with whom Doris did a trilogy of similar movies– Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers. I read a few snarky reviews online that said James Garner was basically “subbing” or “taking over for Rock” in this film, which seems unfair and kind of mean, because he more than held his own against Rock, if you ask me. And if you’re reading this, let’s assume that you are asking me.
It’s a sweet movie, something of an early-1960s time capsule. When the film was released, Doris was America’s number-one female box office star. Norman Jewison directed; he cranked out a string of movies, ranging from great to just ok, over many years, most notably In the Heat of the Night and Moonstruck.
But none of that matters here, because movies we truly love are personal. To us. Often for reasons quite distinct from anything others could ever see on the screen. Certainly far beyond their face value of a couple of hours of storytelling committed to film.
They may not be brilliant art, celebrated classics or even popular. The Thrill of It All won no awards. It’s not on anyone’s list of “Best” anything, as far as I know. There are no pristine copies hidden in the American Film Institute vault.
I can all but guarantee that no one will toss out tiresome and annoying Thrill of It All quotes at a party.
But at our house, it was the standard against which all romantic comedies were measured. My parents would watch intently, sitting together THIS/close on the sofa, and for those 108 minutes it seemed like there couldn’t possibly be problems or pain out in the world.
I cannot remember the last time I watched The Thrill of It All. We lost my mother more than 30 years ago. My father’s health is not what we’d like it to be.
Doris and Jim lived happily ever after, of course, in eternal, youthful bliss, having solved all of their marital and family issues about 106 minutes into the movie. She gives up shilling for soap and returns to housewifery and they fall into each other’s arms.
For me, the signature scene is the frustrated James Garner, fresh off a noisy row with Doris, kicking a dozen boxes of Happy Soap into a swimming pool, only to then witness a raging rainstorm creating a giant mass of Happy Soap suds that engulfs their home.
Students of screenwriting will tell you that romantic comedies require conflict, a problem that keeps the lovers apart. A problem we solve through the course of the movie. They additionally, in this case, require suds.
And comedy writers will tell you that genuine comedic moments are a matter of Truth + Pain. A furious husband kicking boxes of detergent into a swimming pool causing an explosion of Happy Soap suds = Funny.
Recently I looked up the original Aug. 2, 1963 review as it appeared in The New York Times:
Miss Day is her usual explosive, indignant, disarming, pop-eyed self… James Garner is homogenized as her husband—very wholesome and bland. I don’t want to give you the impression that “The Thrill of It All” is a great film. I just want to tell you it is loaded with good, clean American laughs.
I would guess the venerable Times film critic Mr. Bosley Crowther, who penned this review, did not establish a tradition of watching The Thrill of It All over and over at the Crowther home.
The movie came out on video sometime in the late 90s, but I prefer catching it on TV. I like knowing that other people are experiencing it with me, in the same moment. Maybe somewhere, even some young couple who consider this their movie, sitting very close on a sofa, watching it with three little kids.
I mentioned earlier that this movie had been a tradition. The dictionary says a tradition is the practice of actively maintaining something in the present that has origins in the past. I think I’m going to make my children watch The Thrill of It All.
It’s no five-star classic, I suppose. But with a little popcorn and the right company, it can be just plum magical.
This essay originally written for my friend Ree Drummond’s food-lifestyle-entertainment website, ThePioneerWoman.com – Check out her television show on The Food Network – http://www.foodnetwork.com/ree-drummond/