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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
Take a good look at the film credits of Jean Simmons especially during the Fifties and you'll find that woman has been in some of the best movies ever made. Yet nary an Oscar nomination for her until The Happy Ending and she lost that year to Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
A great example of this would be Elmer Gantry where Jean did not get a nomination unlike the Oscars won by her co-stars Burt Lancaster and Shirley Jones. Yet she did walk off with the director Richard Brooks who became her second husband. It was Brooks who wrote and directed The Happy Ending about a woman tipping into forty something who still has a whole lot of silly romantic notions.
Jean and husband John Forsythe are approaching their twentieth anniversary together and she feels in a rut. So she indulges in all kinds of bad behavior, runs up huge charge account bills, starts drinking like a fish, runs away to a vacation in the Bahamas where an old college pal, Shirley Jones, takes her in.
Elia Kazan in the same year 1969 did a similar film from the man's point of view, The Arrangement which starred Kirk Douglas. The Happy Ending however is far better and it might really have been interesting if Deborah Kerr in that film had gone off the edge the way Jean does here.
In The Happy Ending Jean loves watching Casablanca and I find it fascinating that she picks that as a great romantic film. If memory serves that's the one where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman give up their personal happiness for what they conceive as the greater good.
I do like Shirley Jones in this film as the old college sorority chum who eschewed marriage to just being a permanent 'other' woman. She's had three so far and she's accompanying a fourth to Nassau in the person of Lloyd Bridges. It's fascinating that only Richard Brooks cast Shirley in parts where she wasn't a goody goody and she won great acclaim and an Oscar for being prostitute in Elmer Gantry.
Jean's partial solution to her problems in the end is a very typical feminist one which I will not reveal. As to whether she's damaged her relationship with Forsythe beyond repair, that's anyone's guess.
You will also like Teresa Wright as Jean's mother, Bobby Darin as an about to go over the hill gigolo, and Tina Louise as the neighbor who's ready to take Jean's place with Forsythe any time.
Besides Jean Simmons nomination, The Happy Ending also was nominated for Michel LeGrand's classic song, What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life, a question Jean is struggling to answer all the film long.
The Happy Ending is a good and mature film that could only have been made once the sacred Code was abandoned. Too bad though that it could not have resulted in an Oscar for its star.
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