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Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971)

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

Director:

Mark Robson

Writers:

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

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)
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Storyline

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

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Genres:

Comedy | Drama

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

9 December 1971 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

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

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Quotes

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 »

Connections

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 roger-212See 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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