One of the best pictures Doris Day ever made...
Doris Day was riding high after her Oscar nomination for "Pillow Talk". She was the number one star at the box-office and audiences and critics loved her. It was 1963, the year of the march on Washington and tremendous social upheaval in the United States. A serious brewing war in Vietnam, marches, anger and the assassination of the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy dominated the headlines.
Amid all this, Universal International released "The Thrill of It All" starring Doris Day and James Garner - a light-hearted comedy, with just enough 'bite' to take serious minds, temporarily, off the problems of a nation in chaos. Oddly, the picture seemed out of place with what was actually happening in the real world, but it was probably the right antidote audiences needed, in retrospect.
"The Thrill of It All" is one of the best pictures Doris Day ever made. It was so popular, that it ran for many, weeks in first-run theatres and there were lines around the block to see this critically-acclaimed comedy, written by Carl Reiner. Tremendous kudos must go to Norman Jewison for his expert direction and the care he gave to his female star, by keeping her real and putting the reins on her 'cuteness' and mugging which Michael Gordon unleashed in two pictures. Day played the part straight while the situations and brilliant writing were funny.
Doris Day -by this time considered by many to be the best comedic actress in films - was perfectly cast as the young, beautiful wife of Dr. Gerald Boyer, a leading gynaecologist in New York, whose simple advice to a childless, mature couple has resulted in a much desired pregnancy. The ecstatic couple, the Fraleigh's (Arlene Francis and Edward Andrews), are wealthy soap heirs, who are delighted with the work of Dr. Boyer and invites him and his wife, Beverly, to a dinner party to celebrate the upcoming event.
Beverly impresses the soap guru, Old Tom Fraleigh (the wonderful Reginald Owen) when she tells of her personal experience with Fraleigh's product, Happy Soap. Moved, the older Fraleigh offers Beverly a great deal of money to act in a TV commercial for the product. At first reluctant, stating "I'm not an actress", she eventually agrees to do the commercial, much to her husband's disapproval.
Unscripted and nervous, Beverly's attempt at delivering the commercial is disastrous. She stumbles, forgets what she wants to say, and even argues with the annoying TV director on air! She manages to finish the ad with some conviction but vows never to make another appearance on television. This was a brilliant piece of comedic acting on Day's part. One genuinely believes that she is on "live" TV making those blunders, while secretly, you are pulling for her. Not only is old man Fraleigh charmed by Beverly's natural honesty, but also audiences are demanding to see more of the delightful spokesperson! Fraleigh then raises Beverly's salary in order to lure her before the cameras again. Unimpressed, Beverly refuses the money until she is offered "a ridiculously high amount" to appear once again on the Happy Hour Playhouse. Bewildered, the small fortune is too tempting to refuse and Bev embarks on a new career.
After becoming the "Happy Girl", her fame explodes and Beverly becomes a "star" of sorts. Her face appears on billboards, in magazines and she is seen constantly on television. The demands of her new career cause conflicts in her personal life she never envisioned. The relationship with her husband begins to crumble and the time she spends with her children dwindles.
Carl Reiner's clever script doesn't follow the usual path of screen comedies. Even though the subject matter doesn't address 1963's social problems, it does delve into the wacky world of advertising, instant fame and it's affects on relationships, the servant problem and women's liberation. Day and James Garner are incredible in their roles and are as charming and charismatic as the Day/Hudson teaming.
After Dr. Boyer drives his car into a swimming pool which his been installed in his backyard by Happy Soap without his knowledge, an all-out shouting match between Beverly and Gerald demonstrates how complex comedy acting really is...this is a serious argument, but Day and Garner, through skilful, believable acting make this scene funny as well. It also supports the theory that comedy acting is a more difficult genre than drama and those practitioners like Doris Day have never been given the credit they so richly deserve.
Edward Andrews deserved a best supporting Oscar nod for his exuberant performance. He was very funny hopping from one car to the next in the traffic jam while his wife, in labour, sat in the back of their limousine en route to the hospital. In short, "he was robbed," just as Tony Randall had been in all three of his Day/Hudson films. Doris's crying scene was very affective, just after the birth of the child, when she realises that what she wants in reality is to be a wife and mother again.
Brief appearances by the beloved ZaSu Pitts as Olivia the maid and Alice Pearce as a money hungry wife in a car were priceless. Day film regular, Hayden Rorke gave a professional performance as did Robert Strauss, Elliot Reed and Paul Hartman. The Boyer children, Kym Karath and Brian Nash were cute and well directed.
When I saw "The Thrill of It All", the audience thoroughly enjoyed the picture and it played for weeks to packed houses, solidifying Miss Day's position as a box-office goldmine. She was often the sole female star among the Big Five on the coveted list of top moneymakers for a record eight years. A remarkable achievement which places her as the Top Female Box Office Star of All Time.
Ralph McKnight, New York, July, 2000
The Thrill of It All was one of Doris Day's top three highest grossing films and one of her most popular. She loved working with James Garner: "I had the same kinship with Jimmy (James Garner) that I had with Rock-truly a blessing to have had two such talented, amusing, darling men to work with, men with whom I have had enduring friendships. I really love Rock and Jimmy." - Doris Day, Her Own Story
James Garner, in kind, remarks in the same book:
enjoyably wacky satire on the world of advertising, pairing Doris Day
with the immensely likeable James Garner for the first time. This
is the one where Day becomes a star of soap commercials, much to the
annoyance of her gynaecologist husband Garner, and contains the memorable
scene in which Garner drives the family convertible into a swimming pool
that wasn't there when he left for work in the morning.
There's lots to chuckle over in the clever Carl Reiner screenplay, not least the super cameo Reiner wrote in for himself. It may seem a bit dated now, but back in the sixties this irreverent and glossy comedy was considered strong, anarchic stuff."
"Doris Day is one of the screen's best comediennes and she has plenty of good material to work with in Reiner's bright script and with Jewison's inventive direction." - Hollywood Reporter
"Slick, polished comedy drama of entire family appeal." - Film Daily
Doris Day scores as the housewife with two children who is suddenly thrust into an irresistible position as an $80,000-a-year pitch woman for an eccentric soap tycoon who is impressed by her unaffected quality. Bearing the brunt of these soap operatics is Garner as the gynecologist whose domestic tranquillity is shattered by his wife's sudden transition to career girl. "Arlene Francis and Edward Andrews are spirited in the key roles of a middle-aged couple suddenly expectant parents. ZaSu Pitts does all she can with some ridiculous shenanigans as a fretful maid." - Variety
- Derald Hendry