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As frothy '60s comedies go, there's a high degree of goofy efficiency at work in That Funny Feeling, made in 1965 and starring then-husband-and-wife Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. The story couldn't be more preposterous: Dee plays an aspiring actress who works as a maid to pay the bills. Darin is a playboy executive with a penchant for giving swinging parties at his apartment - an apartment where Dee does the cleaning. The two meet on the street, serendipitously and repeatedly, and strike up a conversation. When Darin offers to walk Dee home, she's embarrassed at the idea of his seeing the more-than-modest walkup she shares with a roommate (Nita Talbot) and instead brings him to his own apartment, pretending that it's hers. (She believes the apartment's occupant - the very swain who's now walking by her side -- is away on a business trip.)
From there, the proceedings get even sillier. Dee goes to great lengths to maintain the pretense that the apartment is really hers, to the point of doing some very girly redecorating (much to the chagrin of Darin's boss, played by Donald O'Connor, who has lent his employee some very costly abstract paintings). Through it all, Dee and Darin flirt and spar, without ever taking things too far - because, of course, this is Sandra Dee we're talking about, who, at the time That Funny Feeling was made, was still a supreme symbol of innocent sexuality - though she wouldn't be able to uphold that image much longer.
By the time Dee and Darin made That Funny Feeling, they had been married for some five years. And in some ways, becoming a "married lady" in the eyes of the public was the beginning of a gradual decline in Dee's popularity. Before that, Dee had personified the teenage American sweetheart in movies like Gidget (1959) and Tammy Tell Me True (1961), though her greatest role came in a very different kind of movie: In Douglas Sirk's grand melodrama Imitation of Life (1959), Dee played the daughter of Lana Turner, a demanding Broadway star and neglectful mother; her performance is delicately pitched, a significant component of the movie's go-for-broke emotional intensity.
Even so, Dee's sunnier roles are the ones that defined her, and by the time That Funny Feeling was made - she was around 23 at the time -- her career as the teenage ray of sunshine was already on the wane, though she'd continue to make made-for-TV movies well into the 1970s. Similarly, Darin's career hit its apex in the late 1950s, although he was slightly older than Dee. The Bronx-born Darin had had delicate health as a kid: His heart had been scarred by rheumatic fever, and he was plagued by health problems throughout his life. (He died in 1973 after undergoing open-heart surgery.) As a youth, Darin was always more engaged by music than by sports or academics, and his family encouraged his interests. In 1958 he appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, performing his song "Splish, Splash." The following year, he won two Grammies for his hit "Mack the Knife," and embarked on an acting career soon thereafter. He was 24 and Dee was 16 when they met on the set of Come September (1961). Their courtship was brief - they were married in 1960 - and they went on to make two more pictures together: If a Man Answers (1962) was followed by That Funny Feeling. The couple divorced two years after the movie's release, in 1967.
The director of That Funny Feeling was Richard Thorpe, a prolific and efficient filmmaker who'd been working in Hollywood since the mid-1920s. (He worked steadily until 1967 - this would be his third-to-last picture.) You wouldn't exactly call That Funny Feeling a movie with its finger on the pulse of the era. It's definitely a movie for the pillbox hat and sack suit generation; the harder the picture tries to swing, the more square it seems. But the direction is lively, at least, and the picture does offer one beautifully choreographed bit of comedy, featuring one of the movie's finest supporting players, Nita Talbot. The scene is set in the tiny apartment shared by Dee and Talbot - and for once, it's a realistically sized depiction of the kind of flat two broke actresses-to-be might be forced to share. The two sleep in twin beds separated by a sliver of floor space. When the alarm goes off, it's not even in their own apartment, but in that of their neighbor (played by Larry Storch); why spend extra money for an alarm clock when three people in two separate flats can just share one? Dee hops into the shower while Talbot attempts to get to the closet. To do this, she has to move the beds together and against the opposite wall - the apartment is that tiny. Thorpe orchestrates the sequence with verve and good humor, and Talbot - who would go on to play, to great acclaim, the sexy spy Marya in Hogan's Heroes - plays the scene with all the loose-limbed wackiness of a Marx brother. Her character in That Funny Feeling is the stock quick-witted career girl who's ready to go places and is having plenty of fun while she's getting there, and Talbot tackles the role with gusto. She is, perhaps, the most modern thing about it, a woman who'd rather face the future than try to hang onto the teenage innocence of the past.
Producer: Harry Keller
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: David R. Schwartz (screenplay), Norman Barasch, Carroll Moore (story)
Cinematography: Clifford Stine
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, George Webb
Music: Bobby Darin
Film Editing: Gene Milford
Cast: Sandra Dee (Joan), Bobby Darin (Tom), Donald O'Connor (Harvey Granson), Nita Talbot (Audrey), Larry Storch (Luther), Leo G. Carroll (O'Shea), James Westerfield (Officer Brokaw), Robert Strauss (Bartender), Ben Lessy (Bartender).
by Stephanie Zacharek
The New York Times