Originally published January 28th, 2015
Second-wave feminism (you’ve already stopped reading, haven’t you?) wouldn’t crop up for another couple of years, but that’s not to say Hollywood wasn’t doing its part showing women were sick, tired, and unwilling to take it anymore! Okay, maybe things weren’t that militant, but director Norman Jewison (who went on to helm the groundbreaking In the Heat of the Night and the darling romantic comedy Moonstruck) and screenwriter Carl Reiner (of Dick van Dyke fame) did their part in creating a world where women are equals just for “the thrill of it all.”
Beverly Boyer (Doris Day) is a full-time wife to Dr. Gerald Boyer (James Garner), and the mother of two rambunctious children. When Gerald takes Beverly to a work dinner, she meets soap mogul Tom Fraleigh (Reginald Owen) who thinks Beverly would make the perfect spokesperson for his soap. However, as Beverly’s fame and commitments increase, it leaves Gerald wondering when he became “Mr. Beverly Boyer.”
Had The Thrill of It All been about the perils of women in the workforce I’d have spent a lot of time rolling my eyes. Instead, Jewison and Reiner spend much of the time discussing the issues inherent in any marriage and the struggles of juggling work and home. There’s an inherent contradiction immediately introduced from the film’s first frame: Gerald is an obstetrician, spending long hours at the hospital, while Beverly runs the household. A scene of Day attempting to give her daughter (Sound of Music’s Gretl Kym Karath in her début role) a bath as her other child relays a message from Gerald, poorly, illustrates the frazzled world of being maid, cook, and mentor to a busy household. When Beverly gets the opportunity to be the Happy soap spokesgirl, it’s not just the money that entices her, although she is offered a nice amount, but the opportunity to help her family in more obvious ways, to be on an equal footing with Gerald. There’s a great speech Beverly gives to this effect, explaining to Gerald, free of theatrics or whining that would be common if we were supposed to side with Gerald, that for years she’s been at home and now she wants an opportunity to do something.
From there, the movie becomes a marriage comedy illustrating the mutual struggles of both husband and wife. Garner gets the more physical, slapsticky elements of the plot. He crashes his car into the new swimming pool he knew nothing about; he takes his wife on a date only to have autograph hounds pester them and ask if he’s her husband. Then again, the script makes a point of showing that, despite Gerald making a few good points about his wife not being home, he doesn’t have the right way of solving the problem either. He believes if he gets Beverly pregnant, a baby will force her to give up her job! You can’t hate him because James Garner affability and sexual charisma keeps you on his side, but you certainly see through his scheme. For Gerald, his problems stem from not being top dog, the one given praise, in the family. When Beverly asks him how he thinks she felt about it when the shoe was on the other foot, he can’t really come up with a proper response. Part of this is the movie never settling on a good answer because this was still the studio era, and because there aren’t any “winners” in this argument. The two can only settle on a solution that works for them, not the entirety of their respective sexes.
James Garner continues to play characters who, despite their apparent flaws, you’re attracted to him. No matter if he’s playing a homophobe (Victor/Victoria) or a war profiteer (The Americanization of Emily), he’s laid-back and commanding enough that you’re willing to go with him on whatever he’s thinking. So it goes with the character of Gerald Boyer. He suffers from the typical exasperated husband clichés of 1950s television shows, a man with a huge hero complex, but that hero complex is warranted. He spends all day giving people the gift of life, and he’s humble about it, for the most part. He’s also the only man I’ve seen able to turn Doris Day into a character with actual carnal desires.
I’ve mentioned in before, but Doris Day always played too perfect for me. Sure, in roles like Teacher’s Pet, she’s in positions of power, but those positions are rather minor compared to Dr. Gerald. With The Thrill of It All, Day gets a chance to relax. She’s relatable, not perfect, average. There’s also plenty of time for her to flirt with her on-screen husband. Allegedly, James Garner was enamored with Day and it shows! The script inserts plenty of natural moments of affection between the two – I mean, it gets downright hot! – and you feel the kinship between them. This is a marriage built on mutual love, respect, and, yes, sex! The movie ends with the duo telling their children that they’ll start working on a sibling if you need anymore proof.
There’s all sorts of different “thrills” found in The Thrill of It All. Yes, the ending gives Gerald a bit too much credit at the end, but it’s negligible when the film actually spends time creating two characters who feel real. (I also didn’t mention the subplot involving a couple having their first child, mostly because everytime Arlene Francis shows up, looking every bit her 56 years, I had to laugh at how the script thought we’d believe she got pregnant.) James Garner never fails to surprise me, but I was truly taken aback by how much I loved Doris Day. This is the type of character I’m eager to see her play more of! The two starred in a remake of My Favorite Wife, entitled Move Over Darling, which I’m now eager to watch.
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