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Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971)

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


Mark Robson


Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (play), Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (screenplay)




Cast overview:
Rod Steiger ... Harold Ryan
Susannah York ... Penelope Ryan
George Grizzard ... Dr. Norbert Woodley
Don Murray ... Herb Shuttle
William Hickey ... Looseleaf Harper
Steven Paul ... Paul Ryan
Pamelyn Ferdin ... Wanda June
Pamela Saunders Pamela Saunders ... Mildred Ryan
Louis Turenne Louis Turenne ... Major von Koningswald
C.C. Whitney C.C. Whitney ... Mrs. Kestenbaum
Lester Goldsmith 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 | Plot Synopsis


Comedy | Drama


R | See all certifications »

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 »

User Reviews

"Men can touch other men and it doesn't mean a thing. Haven't you ever seen football players after they've won the Super Bowl?"
6 August 2016 | by moonspinner55See all my reviews

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. adapted his Broadway play about a big game hunter, missing for eight years in the Amazon jungle, returning home to the States, where his wife has understandably moved on with her life, having become engaged to the peace-preaching doctor who lives in the apartment next door. Either producer Leonard Goldsmith or director Mark Robson made the decision to film the play pretty much as is, using mostly one set for its action, with the actors talking and walking from stage right to stage left (or in circles); as the screenwriter, Vonnegut really didn't give them much of an opportunity to do anything else, though he later badmouthed the film. Tolerance for the performances will have to determine the picture's ultimate success: Susannah York does wonders with the role of Penelope, the wife who has become educated since her days as a car-hop, but Rod Steiger is all wrong for the role of Harold, the explorer filled with macho bravado. Perhaps Steiger overthought the material and the conception of his character--he approaches it like Burton doing Becket, with a 'masculine' voice and eyes ablaze. Young Pamelyn Ferdin giddily upstages the grown-ups as Wanda June, a birthday girl killed by a drunk driver before she got her cake, however Robson is perhaps too pushy with the satire in these Heavenly sequences (we're supposed to feel they're audacious, but instead they have a queasy undermining). Some of the interplay between the characters is indeed very funny, but so much of the movie is overwrought, with lines shouted to the rafters, that one doesn't wait for the film to end as much as implode. *1/2 from ****

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Release Date:

9 December 1971 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

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

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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