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Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971)

A family reacts to the return of the patriarch who abandoned them seven years prior.



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Cast overview:
Harold Ryan
Dr. Norbert Woodley
Herb Shuttle
Looseleaf Harper
Paul Ryan
Wanda June
Pamela Saunders ...
Mildred Ryan
Louis Turenne ...
Major von Koningswald
C.C. Whitney ...
Mrs. Kestenbaum
Lester Goldsmith ...
Mr. Kestenbaum (as Lester M. Goldsmith)


A family reacts to the return of the patriarch who abandoned them seven years prior.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Drama


R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

9 December 1971 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Happy Birthday, Wanda June  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The original Broadway production of "Happy Birthday, Wanda June" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. opened at the Edison Theater on December 22, 1970, ran for 96 performances and closed on March 14, 1971. See more »


Penelope Ryan: Doctor Woodley, I would like you to meet Harold, my husband. Harold, I would like you to meet Doctor Woodley, my fiancé. Goodnight dear
[kisses Harold]
Penelope Ryan: goodnight dear
[kisses Dr Woodley]
Penelope Ryan: . Stay or go; talk or sulk; laugh or cry - as you wish. Do whatever seems called for. My mind is gone. Good night.
[she closes and locks door]
See more »


Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: 12 to the Moon (1994) See more »

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User Reviews

Lost and wonderful Vonnegut film/play worth reviving
10 August 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

"Happy Birthday Wanda June" is out there...somewhere, because a print has just surfaced in San Francisco for a small festival showing in August of 2007. I first read about this film way back in Cinefantastique and of course it hasn't surfaced since, not on VHS or DVD.

Written probably as Vonnegut was really hitting his stride, around the time of "Slaughterhouse 5" it explores the meaning of humanity on this planet, the madness of men (the gender) and the blindness of following what we thing is valuable but isn't.

Smaller in scale than "S5" or "Sirens of Titans" this originally was a play and the film shows this provenance. It's practically one-set, and the acting is rather broad. Mark Robson seems to be making sure everyone pitches it out to the back rows. The child and the 2 male friends of Susannah York's character are particularly grating. But Rod Steiger, whose role is a bombastic man's man (somehow reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway or John Huston), manages to play his loud and obnoxious role with a graceful (if unhumble) bravado. He is perhaps more in on the joke - that he is a fool and a dinosaur embracing out-of-date ideas - than he initially proclaims.

The flashes to Heaven, mentioned in previous posts, makes this vintage absurdist Vonnegut, with the underlying message that everyone goes to Heaven, so murdering someone is actually not a bad thing - you're doing them a favor. It makes the complains down in the Manhattan apartment about whether they should kill animals, be "savage" or civilized, rather moot in retrospect.

An important work that deserves reviving. It's dated and a bit obvious in its symbolism (the violin hanging like a corpse above the fireplace) but beats "Visit to a Small Planet" anytime. And William Hickey is great as Steiger's sidekick who also returns after 8 years.

Interesting side note when Steiger reveals he was drugged on "blue soup" for 7 1/2 of the 8 years. Did he actually see what life without the "action, the killing" might be like...and recoil in horror? And the last shot - not what you would expect, also raises an ironic eyebrow that will keep this film in your mind for days.

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