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  Thrill of It All, The Soft Soap And Flannel
Year: 1963
Director: Norman Jewison
Stars: Doris Day, James Garner, Arlene Francis, Edward Andrews, Reginald Owen, Zasu Pitts, Elliott Reid, Alice Pearce, Kym Karath, Brian Nash, Lucy Landau, Paul Hartman, Hayden Rorke, Alex Gerry, Robert Gallagher, Ann Newman, Burt Mustin, Robert Strauss
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Beverly Boyer (Doris Day) is a happily married mother of two, the wife of an obstetrician, Gerald (James Garner) who has recently given a middle aged couple the good news that they will be having a baby soon. Beverly has her hands full with her own son and daughter, and the latter is refusing to have her hair washed in her usual shampoo so her mother resorts to using a bar of soap instead, a new brand to her that she has picked up while shopping today. While she's attending to this, her son has a bit of trouble with the phone call his father is trying to make home to tell his wife that they have been invited to the couple's home for dinner by way of celebration - but it's what the husband does that proves important.

This hailed from Doris Day's last decade of making movies, at the point she was just about to find out she had lost her fortune to the mismanagement of her husband and was forced to make umpteen television episodes of her own series before she decided she had had enough of showbiz and retired to look after animals at her sanctuary. That career path might have been ironic in light of what her character got up to in The Thrill of It All, as Carl Reiner's script took great delight in lampooning the small screen, with Beverly capturing the hearts of the nation in a commercial for Happy soap. How did she end up there? It's to do with that dinner party Gerald insists she attend, and the anecdote she delivers whilst there.

The middle aged couple are Mr and Mrs Fraleigh (Edward Andrews and Arlene Francis), part of the Happy soap empire whose crotchety patriarch (Reginald Owen) is less than satisfied with the starlet they have hired to advertise the product in the breaks between their sponsored drama playhouse on the TV. This ad plays up the sex appeal in amusingly spoofy fashion as it doubles as a mockery of the stupidity advertisers believe their consumers will put up with, but the elder Fraleigh is more impressed by Beverly and her anecdote about the hair washing. So much so that next time the Happy Soap show is on the air, Beverly is recruited to relate that tale once again as an example of a down to earth, "real" person endorsing the product, but it does not all go to plan.

Indeed, she fluffs her lines and feels thoroughly humiliated, telling Gerald once she is home that as far as she is concerned, never again. Then one of the executives makes her an offer of thousands of dollars if she will put in a repeat performance every week for the next year, thus even the purest example of American integrity has her head turned by the Great God Mammon. The heart of the humour was the friction caused between husband and wife when wife decides she wants to work, and brings in more salary than he does; it's all very well for the supposedly progressive Gerald to espouse views that a liberated woman is a happy woman, but when it strikes so close to home he finds he's more conservative than he thought.

The real bonus here was Reiner's daffy, sharp script, and the way both leads rose to the occasion with aplomb, obviously having a fine time with them and selling the laughs with ease. The movie was released at a stage when the revolution in the air of the sixties was about to break, not that you'd know it from much of this, but nevertheless the proto-feminist elements, more common to Doris's comedies than is often regarded, probably because she ended each of them swooning in the arms of her male co-star, made this a lot more interesting and offered a valuable filter to watch them through. It was true The Thrill of It All ran out of steam well before the conclusion with a superfluous and hastily dismissed subplot about Gerald trying to make Beverly jealous as a form of petty revenge, but we were on her side all the way. Not that this was brazenly subversive, yet it might have made more than a few Doris fans think; she didn't sing this time, but the jokes made up for it, including the bit everyone recalls, Garner driving his car into the new swimming pool. And oh so many suds. Music by Frank De Vol.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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