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It's been a long time since I saw this movie, so I don't really
remember enough details to rate it fairly. I do, however, dislike the
preceding review in which the reviewer is commenting more on Kelly's
life choices than on the movie itself. If you don't like movies about
children running away, I have a suggestion: Don't Watch Them! That's
like buying tickets to the ballet knowing you don't like ballets.
If you ready Kelly's biography, you'll find out there were several reasons he chose to live and work in France for some time. One of the chief reasons being that the golden age of musicals in Hollywood was winding down and he wasn't finding much work here in the states.
Yes, I realize I'm guilty of filling this post with commentary on Kelly's life choices as I just admonished the previous poster for doing. But I felt Kelly was unfairly pigeon-holed as being a Francophile by an under-educated reviewer with an innate dislike for this type of movie.
The Happy Road was Gene Kelly's next to last film on his MGM contract
and this was a personal project in which he not only starred in, but
directed and produced as well. Probably something to pass the time of
day while he was waiting for his final full blown musical Les Girls.
The film is best however when the kids are in front of the camera. The very simple story involves Kelly's son Bobby Clark who runs away from the Swiss boarding school his father has put him in to go to Paris and be with him. He also wants to prove how self reliant is. His good friend Brigette Fossey decides to join him on the odyssey and prove the same to her divorcée mother Barbara Laage.
Whatever else they do, the kids prove they're self reliant, they have the French police totally at their wits end, not to mention a bunch of NATO troops out on maneuvers, embarrassing their commanding officer Michael Redgrave no end.
Kelly is a concerned father, but he's also a poster child for the ugly American. He wasn't doing all that much for Franco-American relations with his exasperation about the French way of doing things. Laage kind of smooths out the rough edges in him by the time film ends.
With a title song sung over the opening credits by Maurice Chevalier and the film shot in France, The Happy Road will not rank as one of Gene Kelly's great films. But it's a pleasant diversion and very good for juvenile audiences.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
5 years after the phenomenal "Singin' in the Rain," Gene Kelly probably
decided to hang up his dancing shoes. He directed this 1957 misery and
the film is miserable throughout.
Two children run away from their private school in Switzerland. They want to get to Paris to be with their respective parents, Gene Kelly, a widower who works all day and enjoys little, and Barbara Laage, a divorcée on the verge of marrying a wealthy man.
The film follows the various adventures of the children making their way to France with Kelly and Ms. Laage in pursuit.
There is just nothing to this film. How Michael Redgrave got involved as a general in charge of an army on maneuvers is beyond me.
Kelly and Laage discover things about themselves during this chase and even when they're reunited with their children, one wonders if they will get together. Actually, you don't have to wonder because you really don't care. Miserable production all around.
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
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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