Jenny (Debbie Reynolds) and Grif Henderson (James Garner) are parents to Davey (Donald Losby), a young man who is every bit the stereotypical “peace and love” ’60s teen. Grif doesn’t understand his son at all, while Jenny’s a bit overprotective of Davey.
When Davey decides that he wants to follow his girlfriend Bootsie (Hilarie Thompson) on a summer tour of Europe, the worried Jenny hatches a plan to have her photographer husband cover an “American kids overseas” story for his magazine… and supervise Davey’s travels.
Jenny and Grif had been planning to spend the summer together in New York, so Jenny decides she’ll go to Europe as well. The Henderson family finds that not all is as they hoped it would be when their ship finally arrives on the other side of the Atlantic.
How Sweet It Is! made its TCM premiere during Summer Under the Stars, on Debbie Reynolds day. The film was directed by Jerry Paris, and written/produced by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson.
I chose to watch this film because I’m a fan of Debbie Reynolds, but was pleased to find that many familiar names and faces were involved in it. With Ann Morgan Guilbert appearing in a supporting role and the team of Paris, Marshall, and Belson handling the producing, writing, and directing, How Sweet It Is! is a big-screen Dick Van Dyke Show reunion!
That was reason number one for me to immediately have a soft spot for the film. Reason number two was the opening credits. They’re done up in a very exaggerated ’60s style, with bright and groovy graphics, and a very catchy theme tune. I was easily won over by them.
There’s a lot more to like about the film after the credits roll, too. Ben Mankiewicz’s TCM introduction to the film noted that a common complaint about the film is that it feels too much like a TV episode; as a fan of the television work of many of the people involved, I didn’t mind this aspect of the film at all. The mood is kept bright and there are plenty of laughs to be had.
Some of the humor comes from the generational gap between David and his father. David is a slightly hippie-ish kid with hair inspired by The Monkees and a habit of joining picketing lines. Grif is a charming, clean-cut, successful man, very clearly the product of a ’40s upbringing. In one scene David says he won’t need to borrow any money for his trip to Europe, because he trusts that other people will help him if he needs it. His father, a world-traveling magazine photographer, tells him to “bring a gun.”
The film is pretty saucy at times, too, which I found amusing. How Sweet It Is! opens with Debbie Reynolds and James Garner in bed together; in one scene, Debbie Reynolds is shown from the back wearing only a short grass skirt; Mr. earns the nickname of “Hickey Henderson”; and when Mrs. Henderson arrives at the villa, she finds that it’s inhabited by a French womanizer. Since I don’t watch as many films from the late ’60s or ’70s as I do earlier films, I sometimes forget how much things changed after the “golden age” ended!
How Sweet It Is! is a very typical example of ’60s romantic comedy, but for those who are fans of the filmmakers or Debbie Reynolds, it will be particularly enjoyable.