An American boy and a French girl run away from a Swiss school making for Paris to reunite with their parents. The boy's father and the girl's mother join forces, despite cultural differences, to search for their kids.
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While setting up a business in Paris, American widower Michael Andrews has placed his adolescent son, Danny Andrews, in a Swiss boarding school as Mike has no time during this phase of the business set-up to look after Danny on his own. Mike receives distressing news that Danny has run away from the school with another student, Parisienne Janine Duval. This news does not sit well with either Mike or Janine's divorcée mother, Suzanne Duval. Suzanne believes Danny is a delinquent influence on her daughter, while Mike believes Janine is an enabler as non-French speaking Danny could not manage outside the school without some language assistance. They learn from another student that Danny is heading to Paris to show Mike that he is independent enough to live in Paris with Mike, while Janine tagged along because she sees herself as Danny's girl and as she has not seen her mother in some time. As the children have not been gone long and as there is only one road between the school and Paris,... Written by
A happy comic scoot along the French countryside involving an American and a Parisienne who get embroiled in a bicycle race, pique-nique (picnic), NATO, Gendarmerie and in each other - all done delightfully and amusingly.
The company that coproduced is called Kerry, after Gene Kelly's daughter. See more »
At the very beginning, when the boy is running away, he is shown throwing his knotted rope over the railing, and immediately beginning the climb down. The next shot shows him continuing his climb, but now the rope is tied with a big knot on the railing, though he didn't stop to do that. See more »
I dislike children's movies like "The Happy Road" which romanticise the experiences of runaway children. In kids' movies, runaways tend to have lots of fun and get into little or no danger, having adventures with picturesque hobos and indulgent old ladies. I dread the thought of what might happen to a mildly troubled child nowadays who sees one of these unrealistic old movies and decides to solve his (or her) problems by running away from home... into the clutches of crack addicts and perverts.
Gene Kelly was an ardent Francophile who seriously compromised his great career at MGM by doing several dodgy projects which gave him an opportunity to work in his beloved France. "The Happy Road" is one such project. It's a decent little film, proficiently made ... but if Kelly had decided not to make this movie, there would probably be one more great or near-great MGM musical among his credits.
The movie opens nicely with the distinctive voice of Maurice Chevalier on the soundtrack, singing the indifferent title song. (We never see Chevalier in this movie, and we never hear him again after the opening credits.) Kelly plays Mike Andrews: a widowed entertainer, an American in Paris (oops, wrong movie!) who is the star of a big nightclub act ... although, judging from the seedy little nightclub where we see him rehearsing, maybe he's not such a big star after all. Mike has a son Danny, about 10 years old, whom he's dumped in a boarding school in Switzerland. (I wonder if this is the same boarding school in Switzerland where Sylvester Stallone hid from the draft board during the Vietnam war.) One of Danny's schoolmates is Janeane Duval, a French girl his own age. Conveniently, Janeane has no father because her mother is divorced. (Hmm: a single father, a single mother ... I wonder how this movie will end.)
Mike decides to run away to Paris so he can live with his father, not bothering to realise that his father chose to get rid of him in the first place. (Kelly's screen character here is less sympathetic than perhaps Kelly intended.) Janeane wants to run away to Paris too, so she can be with her mother. But Janeane is afraid to run away by herself (smart girl); she wants to come along with Danny so he can protect her (stupid girl). Danny is in the 'girls have cooties' stage, so he wants nothing to do with Janeane ... but she speaks French and he doesn't (this is a boy attending school in Switzerland, remember), so he reluctantly decides to let Janeane come with him ... especially since she kindly baked him a chocolate fairy cake. (Which he immediately scoffs at the very beginning of their journey.)
When the school notifies Danny's dad and Janeane's mum that their brats have taken French leave, the two parents join forces to find their children. Along the road, Danny and Janeane meet other Eurobrats who help them. Most of the plot devices in this movie are both extremely implausible and highly predictable. Also, the child actors are given some annoyingly "wise" dialogue about global politics and other deep subjects. Michael Redgrave gives a semi-comic performance as the commander of a British regiment on field manoeuvres, and Roger Van Doude is quite funny as a Clouseau-like gendarme. There's a truly bizarre performance by a small boy in the brief role of an English peer. The child actors who play Danny and Janeane are surprisingly competent. Gene Kelly's direction is workmanlike: not nearly as skillful as his direction on some later big-budget Hollywood films.
I'll rate 'The Happy Road' 4 points out of 10. I recommend it for children, but only if an adult guardian explains to them that runaway children in the REAL world usually have a lot less fun and a lot more danger.
UPDATE: IMDb reviewer 'Hemingway and the Sea' calls me 'under-educated with an innate dislike for this type of movie'. Actually, I'm SELF-educated, and I've an innate dislike for any movie (such as this one) which depicts runaway children having romantic adventures with helpful strangers and picturesque tramps. The children in the audience need to know that running away from an abusive environment (to anywhere but to the authorities) can put them in deadly danger.
Also, 'Hemingway' accuses me of making 'political statements' about Gene Kelly. I merely called Kelly a Francophile: that's a social statement. Gene Kelly was very clear about why he left the Arthur Freed unit at MGM: by spending a year in France and London, Kelly was able to take lawful advantage of a loophole in the U.S. tax code. But in that wretched year, Kelly made two very weak French films and an unfinished British production. If he had stayed at MGM, we might now have one more Gene Kelly masterpiece on a par with "Singin' in the Rain" or "An American in Paris" (which, despite its title, was filmed entirely in Culver City). My opinion of 'The Happy Road' remains unchanged.
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