60’s References

One of my very favorite movies is That Thing You Do. I’m not exactly sure why, but I never get tired of watching it. I could go into a whole other post about why I like it, but I suspect that it just put together exactly the right mix of fun music, (mostly) clever dialogue, compelling story line, and well-chosen actors to hook me.

An interesting thing, though, is how much of the movie is concerned with period references. The movie is set in the mid-60s, about 10 years before I was born. So, I don’t have original memories of a lot of the little bones that they throw us in the movie. Some are fairly obvious (references to The Ed Sullivan Show and The Beatles, the TV interview with Gus Grissom, etc.). Others are ones that I figured out but were not quite so obvious. For instance, “Rick and Anita” in the beach movie are almost certainly thinly-veiled stand-ins for Frankie and Annette. One of the really obscure ones that I actually picked up on is that Guy’s father is using a Zenith Space Command remote control for their TV (see this web page for more info). Pushing a button on the remote caused a mechanically-produced (no batteries) ultrasonic tone that the TV “listened” for. There are a few that I actually had to look up. Guy’s “percussionist Foster Grant” line, I learned, is a reference to a famous ad campaign that sunglass maker Foster Grant ran back in the 60’s in which they asked, “Who’s that behind those Foster Grants?.”

One reference that eluded me for years, though, was Guy’s comment late in the movie that “If Jimmy’s a genius, then I’m (something that sounded like “ooh-TONT”).” I tried Google, but since I didn’t know how to spell the mystery word, I had no luck. I was talking to someone about it last night, and I decided to give it another shot. Thanks to this page, I finally found it. The line is actually, “If Jimmy’s a genius, then I’m U Thant.” U Thant (archived copy on was the 3rd Secretary General of the United Nations and would have been the current one during the time the movie was set. Thus, it makes sense that Guy’s response to “Who’s U Thant?” started with “He’s the Sec…”.

I think it’s interesting that Tom Hanks and company were able to make a movie that was appealing to younger moviegoers yet chock full of so many references that were so obviously intended for people who actually grew up in the 60’s. Bravo. 🙂

3 replies on “60’s References”

Yep. I bet your parents would have recognized the name (and the appropriateness of the metaphor in the movie) immediately. He was apparently instrumental in helping defuse the Cuban missile crisis.

They had fun writing clever ways of calling Jimmy names in the movie. One of the ones that I really like came almost at the end, when Jimmy ranted, “Which one of you butts said we were engaged?” White’s response: “The same person who said you had class, Jimmy.” I love the implied but silent “I guess he was wrong about that, too.”

It confuses me that the same people wrote lines like “Shame on me for kissing you with my eyes closed so tight.”

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