Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
That Funny Feeling is a fairly feeble comedy with the unpromising acting duo of Sandra
Dee and Bobby Darin, two big names not particularly suited for romantic laughs. The tiresome
script develops a sitcom situation into a big deal that never takes off, and a host of charming
supporting players do their best in a losing situation.
The movie is an excellent example of the high production gloss Universal could conjure up in the
middle 60s. Without any particular creative spark in view, the show is cheerfully bland.
Working housemaid and aspiring actress Joan Howell (Sandra Dee) takes advantage of the
fact that one of the apartments she cleans is free for ten days, to move in and impress a young
man she's met, publishing executive Tom Milford (Bobby Darin). The only problem, is, it's his
apartment. Instead of objecting, and curious as to who she is, Tom goes along with the game and
moves in with his unhappy partner/boss Harvey Granson (Donald O'Connor). But Joan's tenement-mates
Audrey (Nita Talbot) and Luther (Larry Storch) get in on the act and are soon holding parties
at their borrowed place, all to impress the confused tenant.
Sandra Dee was a pert talent with a limited range; her flawless looks and pouting face seemed
perfect for the 1960 A Summer Place, especially when paired off with the equally weightless
Troy Donahue - they were made for each other. But she's not Doris Day, and her painfully contrived
character lacks charm. It's the screenplay's fault of course, dolling her up like a fashion model
to go to houses as a cleaning woman ("Cleaning Woman!") and then pulling off a series of unlikely
stunts suited to a much more stylized screwball comedy. Carol Lombard might have been able to pull it all
off, but making any Hollywood star play a cleaning woman just causes credibility problems. The connection
to real workers seems rather condescending, not to mention the script's frequent unfunny jokes about
Asians. Dee is even stretches her eyes back into slits at one point. Anyway, there's a definite disconnect
when we're supposed to accept the idea of a ravishing, designer-clad white chick running around
Manhattan cleaning luxury apartments.
Bobby Darin could sing up a storm but never made it as a movie actor, usually taking cameo parts
or embarrassing himself looking for serious attention in groaners like Pressure Point. His
features were tiny and delicate and his acting wasn't particularly expressive - he always seems
to be trying too hard. The screwy thing was that in real life Darin was known to be a gentleman
hipster, truly loveable and charming and a killer singer on stage; it's too bad that in
That Funny Feeling he comes off as a bad imitation of Dean Martin.
The mechanics of the script creak loudly. Forced is too
kind a word for the "she-took-my-apartment-but-I'm-too-surprised-to-object" story hook; it smells
like a bad twist on the plot cooked up by William Holden's writer in Sunset Blvd., where a day
teacher and a night teacher share the same classroom but never meet. It's properly worked out for
logic, with roommates suspecting that Darin is a slick operator and pawnbroker Leo G. Carroll offering
cute romantic advice in a sort of John McGiver capacity. It's elaborate and well-meaning but as a comedy
it's a resounding thud.
Nita Talbot stood out as a girl in a bar in the Film Noir On Dangerous Ground thirteen years
earlier. She tries hard to be an Eve Arden or Audrey Meadows-type sidekick for Dee, without much
luck. The rest of the cast are familiar faces like Larry Storch, Robert Strauss, Kathleen Freeman,
Larry Blake, Arte Johnson, Rita Shaw and Minerva Urecal. They'd be delightful support in a well-written
comedy. Stuck with weak material they stand out for what they are, little one-note non-characters
to make the leads look more attractive.
Universal's production is as standard as standard can get. Richard Thorpe was studio efficiency
personified, grinding out dozens of MGM pix consistently high in class but devoid of individuality;
this is one of his last movies after starting in 1923. With the studio's department heads still
hogging credit in several production categories, there's little incentive but to
put out generic-quality work. The lighting is uniformly high-key and the design of
the apartments garishly flat, approximating the cartoonish simplicity of television sitcoms. The
color is exaggerated, so much so that when the unfunny parade of Darin's ex-girlfriends shows up for
the ending scene, they're all dressed like Christmas ornaments. They need to be, if they're to stand out
from the already gaudy decor.
Universal's New York street sets look better than usual thanks to matte paintings by special effects whiz
Jim Danforth; they're the picture's one visual pleasure. When location filming made a big comeback in a
couple of years, Danforth's specialty would become all but extinct, at least
for pictures with a contemporary setting. Danforth is also listed as providing special stop motion
animation; I'm guessing that his work is the quick journey past Saturn to Earth in the prologue. It's
Universal's DVD of That Funny Feeling looks splendid. The enhanced transfer squeezes out every drop
of chroma from the over-saturated ready-for-color-TV images. Bobby Darin's lush title tune sounds
good over the titles but flops at the laughless fadeout. This is a great curiosity disc to snoop out
what Darin and Dee were like (it helps us understand the Candy Clark joke in American Graffiti).
It will also inspire insecure comedy writers to think that maybe their material isn't so bad
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
That Funny Feeling rates:
Movie: Fair but good for curiosity value
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 26, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson