Lockdown Movie Musts: 1960s Domestic Comedies (a.k.a. Horror Films)

Doris Day selling Happy Soap in 1960's 'The Thrill of it All.' (Universal Pictures)

Welcome to week eight of Lockdown Movie Musts!  Featuring weird subgenres of yore that’ll make you go, “Hey! Look at that! Women used to be stuck inside permanently!"

This week, we're exploring domestic bliss, 1960s-style. We've got a marriage movie (1963's The Thrill of it All), a divorce movie (1967's Divorce, American Style) and a movie about people who have absolutely no idea how to use contraception (Yours, Mine and Ours).

Let's start with Divorce, American Style. A caper that exists solely to spread the message that unhappily married people should stay that way, on the grounds that it's normal to hate your spouse.

Allow me to elaborate.

Barbara (Debbie Reynolds) and Richard Harmon (Dick Van Dyke) are a couple that have drifted apart. Barbara blames this on Richard's inability to share his feelings. I would attribute it to his tendency to smash plates and yell about being "a house boy" every time he's asked to move a plate to the kitchen. (Jesus, 1960s men!)

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Sick of bickering, the two decide to divorce. Before the decree absolute comes through, they both start serious relationships with the first humans of the opposite sex they happen to stumble across. (Not so smart, these two.) Most of the film is filled with gross exaggerations about how much men suffer because of alimony payments, and how complicated it is to date divorcees, what with all their previous spouses and children.

Naturally, the two eventually get back together. (Groan.)

Here's what the reconciliation sounds like:

Richard: "The problem is, marriage is work and nobody wants to work."
Barbara: "The real problem is that line between the sexes. Women are crossing it so much today, it’s being erased… Why resent being the supplier when that’s why you’re in demand in the first place?"

The romance, amirite?!

Divorce, American Style, however, is a dreamscape compared to Doris Day and James Garner hellride, The Thrill of it All. This is a movie that straight-faced answers the question: "What would happen if Phyllis Schlafly was married to Norman Bates but we wanted to make that seem like a good thing?"

Prepare to momentarily stop breathing as I tell you the plot to this "romantic" "comedy."

Beverly Boyer (Doris Day) is the happy housewife of an obstetrician named Gerald (James Garner). Beverly is perfectly presented at all times, to the point that she wears coral lipstick and false eyelashes to bed. Beverly and Gerald have somehow managed to conceive two children despite sleeping in twin beds with a table wedged between them. One day, Beverly accidentally lands herself a job as a spokesperson for Happy Soap (by talking about her bratty kids at a dinner party, naturally). Her husband subsequently spends weeks throwing tantrums, withholding affection, gaslighting and eventually pretending to have an affair until she gives up her job to come back to the kitchen.

What a great guy.

The happy ending of The Thrill of It All is a woman giving up a part-time job that pays about half a million dollars a year in 2020 money. Because she's married to a psychotic man-baby. And, according to this, she apparently likes it.

Did I mention this is supposed to be a romantic comedy?

Here's a "hilarious" snippet of an argument that breaks out when Beverly wants to work:

Gerald: “You have your outside interests and hobbies! You have the PTA and you make your own ketchup! You’ve always said being a doctor’s wife was career enough!”
Beverly (rushing over to reassure him): “You know that I would never consciously go out looking for a job, don’t you? But to have something like this just land in my lap. Honey, honey... It’s only once a week and I won’t let anything interfere with my wifely duties, I promise.”

... I just ...  

In a similar argument later, Beverly shouts "What happened to my rights as a woman?" And Gerald retorts, "They grew and grew until they suffocated my rights as a man!"

... cannot with these people ...

The following are some other examples of what passes for "romance" and "comedy" in The Thrill of it All.

When Gerald complains that Beverly is at the studio too much, she brings the TV cameras to film at their house—so he loses his mind over that too. When she leaves the children with a nanny to go to a work party, he wakes the nanny up, scares her to the point of her quitting, then blames Beverly. When her employers generously build Beverly a swimming pool in the back yard, Gerald fills it with Happy Soap and destroys half the neighborhood. When Beverly is asked for her autograph at a restaurant, Gerald grabs her arm and drags her out the door.

Anyone else feeling hot under the collar from all this sexy, sexy content yet?!

For good measure, there's also some Marilyn Monroe bullying, a hearty dose of pitting women against each other, and three separate scenes that include the line, "I guess there’s nothing more fulfilling in life than having a baby."

So, yes. The Thrill of It All is a horror movie.

Which brings us to our third pick, 1968's Yours, Mine and Ours. I expected to hate this comedy for making light of rampant child production—newlyweds Helen and Frank have 18 children between them. But (gasp) it's actually funny! Despite being based on a true story! (But try not to think about that part...)

Sure, there's a fat-shaming incident, some draft board normalization (like anybody needed that in '68) and a scene in which someone says, "The navy, like a woman, has a way of changing its mind." But all the bad stuff is crammed into the last 30 minutes. The first 90 are a quite a delight. That's largely thanks to the charm, charisma and comedy chops of both Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda—but honestly, even the kids are good in this thing.

But in the end, all three of these movies will, in all likelihood, leave you feeling better about your own domestic situation, even during the additional stresses of sheltering in place. But Yours, Mine and Ours is the only one that comes with wonderful footage of 1960s San Francisco and Alameda. I'd advise you to start there.

Until next week, stay safe and keep sheltering.

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For other Lockdown Movie Musts, see here