Review: ‘Happy Birthday, Wanda June’

Imagine Ulysses' long voyage home with nothing on board to read but the collected writings of Ernest Hemingway. That must have been in the mind of novelist-turned playwright-turned screenwriter Kurt Vonnegut Jr when he dreamed up the hero for Happy Birthday, Wanda June.

Imagine Ulysses’ long voyage home with nothing on board to read but the collected writings of Ernest Hemingway. That must have been in the mind of novelist-turned playwright-turned screenwriter Kurt Vonnegut Jr when he dreamed up the hero for Happy Birthday, Wanda June.

Rod Steiger shines as the self-deceiving ultra-masculine hero, returned from eight years in the Amazon jungle, to find that not only has his loving wife, a former pinheaded carhop (played brilliantly by Susannah York), become a levelheaded intellectual equal but has gone to his extreme opposite in seeking another soul mate.

She’s trying to decide between a violin-playing doctor and practicing pacifist (George Grizzard) and a clumsy, eager vacuum-cleaner salesman (Don Murray). Only his son remembers him (resenting the non-observance of his supposedly dead father’s birthday as a major catastrophe).

The treatment is too irreverent to be taken seriously for a moment, including Vonnegut’s preachments.

Happy Birthday, Wanda June

Production

Filmakers/Sourdough/Red Lions. Dir Mark Robson; Producer Lester Goldsmith; Screenplay Kurt Vonnegut Jr.; Camera Fred Koenekamp; Editor Dorothy Spencer Art Dir Boris Leven

Crew

(Color) Extract of a review from 1971. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Rod Steiger Susannah York George Grizzard Don Murray William Hickey Steven Paul
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