(1963)2Bruce EderThere was a time when audiences would pay money to see romantic comedies like A Ticklish Affair in theaters -- a time long before the 1963 release date of this movie. (And from the perspective of the twenty-first century, it seems like a million years ago in the life of anyone old enough to remember that time.) This was one of the very last of those kinds of movies -- indeed, the only one that comes to mind from after this time is Yours, Mine & Ours, a somewhat different kind of romantic comedy with a different central focus, and that had the then-considerable star power of Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda behind it. A Ticklish Affair stars Shirley Jones in a good-natured comedic story about a perky young widow with three adorable, precocious kids, an eccentric brother-in-law (Red Buttons), and a handsome male lead (Gig Young, in a role that Cary Grant might have played a decade or so earlier). As a production, it was the work of Joe Pasternak, whose biggest successes had come two decades earlier in wholesome romantic comedies starring Deanna Durbin. This was virtually Pasternak's last gasp as a producer, and while the screenplay by Ruth Brooks Flippen tries to keep things up-to-date with some proto-feminist rumblings behind the romance between Jones' and Young's characters, it was all just too dated and cute for words in 1963. Modern viewers, however, may find the climax to be as startling as audiences in the early 1960s likely found it unbelievable -- one of the boys starts to float away and out to sea on a bunch of balloons, and the entire police force and naval contingent in San Diego is mobilized to save him; in 1963 anyone but the kids in the audience must've found this nicely fanciful, but in light of the Colorado "balloon boy" hoax of 2009, the movie ends up being a case of art anticipating life (and this could even be where the parent involved in that event got the notion in his head -- who knows?).
Still, for all of the dated romantic conflicts and seemingly silly action, A Ticklish Affair has some sincerity, especially in the performances. The work by the three stars, and reliable supporting players including Carolyn Jones, Edgar Buchanan, Edward Platt, and Eddie Applegate, is fun to watch. And it is fascinating to see this kind of artifact of a simpler age of entertainment, brushing up awkwardly against the onset of the mid-1960s, when a naval officer such as Gig Young's Commander Weedon would more likely be transferred to a ship off the coast of Vietnam than to Rome.
This light romantic comedy finds a young widow with three young boys investigated by the Navy. Amy Martin (Shirley Jones) has a curious child who inadvertently sends out a distress signal in Morse code by the blinds on his upstairs bedroom window. Commander Weedon (Gig Young) and crew observe the signal from their ship and investigate. The commander falls for the young mother and proposes marriage. Amy is reluctant to have her family live out of a suitcase and initially declines. Gramps (Edgar Buchanan) tries to bring her on board to sail the sea of love with the commander, but it's the youngest son Alex (Billy Mumy) who flies high an hits the mark as Cupid. Alex sets sail with some helium balloons and floats out over the ocean. The commander must save the boy and return him to his mother, creating another opportunity for his mother to be captured by the romantic suitor. Red Buttons and Carolyn Jones also find romance in this feature directed by George Sidney.