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The triumphs and failures of middle age as seen through the eyes of runaway American housewife Mary Wilson (Jean Simmons), a woman who believes that ultimate reality exists above and beyond the routine procedures of conscious, uninspired, everyday life. She feels cheated by an older generation that taught her to settle for nothing less than storybook finales, people who are disillusioned and restless and don't know why, people for whom life holds no easy answers. Great supporting cast includes John Forsythe, Teresa Wright, Lloyd Bridges, Shirley Jones, Bobby Darin, Tina Louise, Dick Shawn, and Nanette Fabray. Written by
Well, The Happy Ending is a textbook example of a late sixties movie by an established director. In as much as it is well intended, partly even "hip" but still missed its audience by a mile. How is that? The late sixties were a bad time for Hollywood filmmakers and producers. The box office numbers dropped and the pressure to have a hit increased. The well-known directors of the thirties, forties and fifties more and more lost contact with the moviegoers. One can almost say that Hollywood made films for a past generation. Looking at the big winners and losers tells you that a new style was in demand. This of course happened world wide.
It is interesting to notice that many of the best directors still had a hit in the early sixties but finished with a big flop in the end of the same decade! The bigger the director, the greater the downfall, I'm tempted to say.
And the failure was not only that not enough people went to see the films. In most cases the public was right and the film was just not good. The producers put pressure on the filmmakers to employ more modern stories and story telling devices and fresh faces. The established directors were not used to this cold wind blowing into their faces, and had little ideas what the public wanted to have changed. Everyone tried something but no one really hit the nail on the head. Let's have a look at some of them. Hitchcock started the sixties with Psycho and ended with Topaz. Billy Wilder started with The Apartment and ended the decade with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Otto Preminger had a big hit with Exodus in 1960 but his last film in the sixties, Skidoo, did so badly with critics and public that few people ever saw it. Frank Capra realized the changes and stopped film-making in 1961.
Fred Zinnemann began the sixties with The Sundowners, had a big Success with A Man of all Seasons, but couldn't get the funding for another project until The Day of the Jackal (1973) since box office in general was going down and producers were scared. Most of the named directors managed to get a foot on the ground again in the seventies and end their career with a respectable picture.
Some managed to have hits till to the middle of the sixties like Robert Wise with Sound of Music, but even that did not help to prevent him from having a bomb with Star!. Richard Brooks had a similar experience with In Cold Blood, that was followed by The Happy Ending. What was going on?
I think the fact that the general interest of the audience changed dramatically throughout the sixties almost completely eluded the Hollywood producers and filmmakers. And when they finally notices and tried to join the new wave it turned out that they have been too old to understand what was going on or that they thought it is enough to get some new faces into their films to appeal to a young and critical audience. Howard Hawks for example tried to jump on the wagon by simply recycling one of his earliest successes The Crowd Roars with new and unknown (and in-experienced) actors but did basically the same thing in Red Line 7000. It was a terrible mistake.
The dinosaur directors only managed to make money by concentrating again on what they did best and Hawks did El Dorado and had a decent swan song with Rio Lobo. Hitchcock tried to join in on the big business with spy movies that made so much money in the form of James Bond or his little brother Harry Palmer. Hitch tried it with Torn Curtain and with Topaz. To be on the safe side he even took a bestseller from Leon Uris (Topaz). The stories as they were told were mainly old fashioned. He had same new ideas in them but the general approach was like the espionage films he did in the thirties. He got out of this loop by going back to the kind of thrillers he was famous for and returned to the screen with Frenzy and had a good final movie with The Family Plot.
The studio system that already started to die with the advent of TV collapsed for good. New directors like Bogdanovich, Scorsese, Coppola and so on began to work for the big studios only after they started for small budget producers, mainly Roger Corman. Others like Dennis Hopper or John Cassavetes had long worked as an actor before being able to direct.
But what exactly is wrong with The Happy Ending? The story line is about a couple after they married. It tries to have a realistic look about problems arising from delusions almost everyone has about "happy ends". Jean Simmons still looks very young and attractive and John Forsythe does his very best. For one thing the constant music playing that lies like a veil over every scene that is really annoying. I'm a big fan of Michel Legrand but this film suffers from the soundtrack he wrote. (Two for the Road is another film that is, theme and music, very similar to The Happy Ending. This time Henry Mancini's music drowns every serious feeling.)
The story drags on and on, we see many episodes that amount to very little. The dialog is dull and everyone moves in upper class levels. The worst thing about The Happy Ending is that everything and everyone seems so boring. At the end you do not care what Jean Simmons decides. You are only glad the movie is over.
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