Day and Garner in a witty ‘soap opera’
With her 1960 Oscar nomination for Pillow Talk, Doris Day was riding high. For the first of what would be four times in five years, she was the #1 star at the box office, and audiences and critics loved her. Many considered her to be the best comedic actress in films. Day demonstrated this in The Thrill of It All, one of the best pictures she ever made. It was so popular that it ran for many weeks, and movie goers lined up around the block to see this critically-acclaimed film.
Universal International released it in the summer of 1963, prior to the assassination of President John Kennedy, when the US was already in tremendous social upheaval. Headlines were dominated by the escalating war in Vietnam, marches on Washington and elsewhere, and anger. The movie was a light-hearted comedy with just enough bite to take serious minds off the problems of a nation in chaos – at least temporarily. Although the picture seemed out of place with what was happening in the real world, in retrospect it was probably the antidote audiences needed.
Carl Reiner wrote a brilliant script with funny situations and, under Norman Jewison’s expert direction, Day played her part without cuteness or mugging. She was perfectly cast as the young wife of Dr. Gerald Boyer (James Garner), a leading obstetrician in New York, whose simple advice to a mature childless couple results in a much-desired pregnancy.
The ecstatic couple, Mr. and Mrs. Fraleigh (Edward Andrews and Arlene Francis), are wealthy soap heirs who, delighted with Dr. Boyer’s work, invite him and his wife, Beverly, to a dinner party to celebrate the good news. Beverly impresses the elderly soap guru, Tom Fraleigh (the wonderful Reginald Owen), when she tells of her personal experience with his product, Happy Soap. Moved, he offers to pay her to appear as herself in a TV commercial for the product. Much to her husband’s disapproval, she agrees to do the ad.
Unscripted and nervous, Beverly’s attempt at making the commercial is disastrous. She stammers, 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 appear on television again. This was a brilliant piece of acting on Day’s part. One genuinely believes that she is on live TV making those blunders. Old man Fraleigh is charmed by Beverly’s natural honesty, and audiences are demanding to see more of the delightful new Happy Soap spokesperson. She adamantly refuses to make further appearances, but ultimately changes her mind when Fraleigh offers her a ridiculously high salary.
As the Happy Girl, Beverly’s fame explodes and she becomes a star of sorts. Her face appears on billboards and in magazines, and she is seen on television constantly. The demands of her new career, however, cause conflicts in her personal life that she never envisioned. The time she spends with her two young children dwindles, and the relationship with her husband begins to crumble. It culminates in an all-out shouting match between Beverly and Gerald. This is a serious argument, but the skillful and believable acting of both Day and Garner make the scene funny. All is finally resolved between them when Beverly realizes, after the birth of the Fraleigh baby, that really what she wants is to be a wife and mother. Day’s crying scene here is very effective.
The supporting cast in this film is strong. Edward Andrews is very funny hopping from car to car in a traffic jam while his wife is in labor in the back of their limousine en route to the hospital. Just as Tony Randall in his three Day/Hudson films, Andrews deserved (but didn’t get) a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. Brief appearances by the beloved ZaSu Pitts as the Boyer maid and Alice Pearce as a money-hungry wife in the traffic jam are priceless. Day film regular Hayden Rorke gives a professional performance, as do Robert Strauss, Elliot Reed, and Paul Hartman. The Boyer children, Kym Karath and Brian Nash, are cute and well directed.
Carl Reiner’s clever script delves into the wacky world of advertising, instant fame and its effects on relationships, the servant problem, and women’s liberation. Day and Garner are wonderful in their roles and as charming and charismatic as the Day/Hudson teaming. They prove the theory that comedy acting is a more difficult genre than drama. Like Day, other practitioners of comedy have never been given the credit they so richly deserve.
When I saw The Thrill of It All, the audience thoroughly enjoyed the picture. It played for weeks to packed houses, solidifying Day’s position as a box-office gold mine. For a record eight years, she was often the sole female among the Big Five on the coveted list of top moneymaking film stars – a remarkable achievement, which places her as the top female box-office star of all time.
Ralph McKnight, New York
“Miss Day is her usual explosive, indignant, disarming, pop-eyed self, full of sudden blurts and stammers and cuddly gurgles of joy. It’s a very commercial conception of an American housewife that she gives. James Garner is homogenized as her husband – very wholesome and bland, that is – and Edward Andrews and Arlene Francis are extremely funny as the soap tycoon and wife. Kym Karath and Brian Nash are cunning youngsters, and Reginald Owen, Lucy Landu, Zasu Pitts, Elliott Reid and several others are snappy in minor roles.” – New York Times
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, adding she thought they looked ‘married’:
“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 had this to say about Doris:
“An 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.” – BBC Radio Times
Slick, polished comedy drama of entire family appeal.” – Film Daily
“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