THE THRILL OF IT ALL: Blu-ray (Universal, 1963) Universal Home Video
Some couples are in it for love; others, for the money. But long-time marrieds, Beverly (Doris Day) and Dr. Gerald Boyer (James Garner) are in it for The Thrill of It All (1963); Norman Jewison’s frothy romantic potboiler about a Victorian-minded obstetrician and his progressive little wifey-dear. The couple has two kids, the precocious Maggie (Kym Karath – of The Sound of Music/Gretl fame) and Andy (Brian Nash) – who isn’t particularly bright. He keeps hanging up on his dad every time he is asked by Gerald to go get ‘his mother’. On the whole, life is good and the business of delivering newly arrived offspring to nervously disheveled and mentally discombobulated expectant fathers lucrative. Indeed, the picture opens with giddy news from a thoroughly bubbly, middle-aged Mrs. Fraleigh (Arlene Francis) that her executive hubby, Gardiner (Edward Andrews) has achieved fatherhood…or rather, the first step: getting her pregnant. Producers Ross Hunter and Martin Melcher (Mr. Doris Day in real life and a real moocher besides) tread lightly on this adults-behaving-like-children/would-be screwball rom-com; evidently knowing their audiences better than the critics. The Thrill of It All grossed a whopping $11,779,093 domestically.
In the mid-sixties a struggle of wills was taking place in virtually every major studio in Hollywood; the old regimes either dying off or retiring, the fragmenting of the system itself, and the infusion of new stars and new artists working behind the scenes with visions of what American movies might become, causing a queer disconnect in the output that followed. On the one hand, glossy big-time studio product – mostly musicals and westerns – continued to be made. On the other end, low-budget/grittier social commentaries – what the fifties had once coined as ‘message pictures’, started to emerge. Hollywood suddenly realized key lighting was out and ‘of the streets’ quality of real locations was in vogue. Outside of Tinsel Town, the times were definitely a’ changin’; socio-political upheaval, the emergence of the ‘let it all hang out’ hippy/drug culture, and crises abroad in Vietnam, to say nothing of a Presidential assassination at home, casting a distinct pall on the pie-eyed optimism that had pervaded. Even so, The Thrill of It All is not particularly reflective of the times in which it was made. So, it’s the mid-sixties and we are still living in an idyllic white bred suburbia where middle-class marrieds sleep in separate beds, the husband sincerely objecting to the wife earning more than him because a woman’s place is – ‘choke!’ – in the home.
Even if we run with this scenario, The Thrill of It All is a rather middling romantic comedy with the luminous Day and chivalrous Garner, a very handsome pair of silly little veals (she throws cheek-puffing temper tantrums/he drives their Buick into the backyard pool, and then, kicks several large boxes of soap chips in after it, soaked to the bone in frustration). The couple is hopelessly hooked on a mythological ideal, that the greatest achievement in life is quaint – if decidedly affluent – domesticity. Alas, this blonde Barbie and her raven-haired Sport n’ Shave Ken doll are in for a rather rude awakening when Beverly is offered an opportunity from multi-millionaire, Tom Fraleigh (Reginald Owen) to do commercial endorsements for his product, Happy Soap. Tom assigns TV marketer, Mike Palmer (Elliott Reed) the task of shaping the ads. At first, Gerald approves. After all, to what could it possibly amount? Answer: a lot, as Beverly’s newfound fame and fortune makes her a ‘new woman’ – literally; a career girl to rival, then surpass the promise of his own money-making skills. After all, it’s not sexy for a big strong man to be supported by his wife. Wounded egos aside, Beverly cannot understand why Gerald has become so openly hostile.
Besides, it’s $80,000 more a year in their joint bank account – enough money to sustain their growing family and keep live-in cook and housekeeper, Olivia (Zasu Pitts), satisfied…that is, until a late-night misunderstanding between Olivia and Gerald results in her leaving this busy ‘power couple’ on the spot. Olivia’s replacement is Mrs. Goethe (Lucy Landau), a Germanic house frau who barely speaks English and repeatedly misinterprets phone messages from the master of this maison, hanging up on him in mid-sentence. Meanwhile, Beverly’s star is on the ascendance. She’s squired around town by Palmer to elegant soirees and press junkets, leaving little time to be either a wife or mother. Naturally, Gerald is displeased with this sudden turn of events and their idyllic home life begins to suffer through one riotous mishap after another. Reaching a tenuous détente in their marriage, the whole darn mess is thrown another tailspin when Tom elects to bequeath a backyard swimming pool to the Boyers for all the fine work Beverly has done marketing his product. Alas, his philanthropy is ordered on spec without the couple’s permission. It’s a surprise – you see. And although the children are overjoyed as a small army of workmen excavate their backyard, Beverly is fairly certain Gerald will not approve.
Indeed, arriving home late after a full-day’s work, Gerald drives through the carport en route to the garage, unaware a rather large cement basin of fresh water stands between them. The car dives into the pool and Gerald bitterly emerges, waterlogged and fuming. He kicks the small pyramid of Happy Soap boxes stacked nearby, charges into the house and declares he has had enough. He is moving out. Beverly will have to choose. It’s either her career or him. Unaware Gerald has dumped several pounds of Happy Soap into the pool, a tearful Beverly retires for the night, only to be awakened early the next morning by an ebullient Andy and Maggie, who declare that a fresh snowfall has blanketed their backyard. The epic cloud of soap suds brewing out back floods through the open doors and windows, startling Beverly and Mrs. Goethe. Several dump trucks are brought in to cart away the foam, attracting undue attention from the neighbors. Electing to give Beverly a taste of her own medicine, Gerald lies to his wife about having to attend a lecture; then, has his photo taken with complicit, Miss Thompson (Anne Newman). To further the inklings of an extramarital affair, Gerald smears some of Beverly’s own lipstick on his shirt collar, planting the stained garment on top of the laundry pile for her to find. Next, he feigns returning home at an ungodly hour, thoroughly drunk.
Beverly is understandably unnerved and makes the executive decision a career is just not worth losing her happy home. In the meantime, Mrs. Fraleigh’s water breaks at one of the final galas Beverly is required to attend as Happy Soap’s spokeswoman. The Fraleighs and Beverly hurriedly get into the back of a chauffeur-driven car. Unfortunately, en route to the hospital they encounter gridlock. Using the car phone, Beverly calls Gerald at the hospital to alert him of the situation. He counsels her on how to prepare for the very real possibility she may have to partake of the birthing process; washing her hands with alcohol from the limo’s bar and using a shoelace to tie the umbilical cord. This results in some fairly inane confrontations with other passengers caught in the quagmire; a frantic Gardiner, rushing back and forth, making his queries to gather the necessary supplies needed to deliver the infant. In the meantime, Gerald sweeps into action, arriving as the Albert Schweitzer of Bev’s heart, on the back of a policeman’s horse no less. When Gardiner finally returns to the car he is greeted by the sight of his newborn daughter, already wrapped in a blanket. Beverly confides in Gerald; the most glorious moment of her life has been as his wife and mother to their two children. Their ‘happy home’ restored – without any more intrusions from ‘Happy Soap’ – our story predictably concludes with an embrace.
The Thrill of It All is basically charming without ever achieving any great sense of comedic timing. Immediately following 1959’s Pillow Talk (a stellar romantic comedy), Doris Day’s movie career quickly devolved from the promise of an intermittently dramatic/singing star’s career to this sort of unprepossessing fluff and nonsense with more to follow (Lover Come Back 1961, That Touch of Mink 1962, and, Move Over Darling 1963 among these tepid offerings). More or less, each follows the same trajectory; a plot where mismatched singles, or disenfranchised newlyweds find something to draw them closer to the altar. For a brief wrinkle, such puff pieces kept Day’s career buoyed, a necessity after Day discovered her real-life husband, song-plugger Martin Melcher had squandered virtually all her savings on ‘bad investments’ and expensive toys, leaving Day with a CBS television contract to fulfill and virtually nothing in the bank after his unexpected death from a heart attack in 1968.
We have to give it to Doris Day, born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in 1922 and still very much with us at the spry age of 96; a real trooper through and through, genuine lady and the truest bon vivant of these frothy/glossy rom-coms. It is saying much of Day she could carry such nonsense to a convincing – if inevitable – conclusion. The Thrill of It All could never be considered high art. But Day makes it look and sound marginally believable. It’s a start, and, in hindsight, the picture’s salvation. Russell Metty’s surface-sheen cinematography and Frank De Vol’s bouncy title tune (ironically, not sung by Day) make The Thrill of It All infectiously mind-numbing entertainment. It passes the time without making a statement. Perhaps in an age where too many modern-age film makers are craving to do more of the latter than the former, movies like The Thrill of It All are precisely what we need.
Universal Home Video has done another cut-rate job on one of their deep catalog titles. The original elements are in relatively good shape, although colors can look slightly anemic throughout. Flesh tones are pinkish. Fine detail is wanting in anything but a close-up, although I suspect Metty’s cinematography would not achieve much more visual refinement. There are no age-related artifacts – a mercy. Contrast is a tad weaker than anticipated. Film grain is virtually non-existent. I suspect this 1080p mastering is derived from older digital elements not given any further consideration. Ditto for the 1.0 DTS mono. It sounds good without going the extra mile to sound remarkable. There are NO extras. Uni has also ditched the notion Blu-rays should be authored with chapter stops and a main menu. Aside: I detest this practice. This disc starts immediately when inserted and stops when the movie is done. Ho-hum and thanks for nothing! Bottom line: a middle-of-the-road rom-com gets as unprepossessing treatment on Blu-ray. If you are a fan of this picture, Doris Day, James Garner or just a glutton for punishment where shoddy Blu authorship is concerned, this one’s for you.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)