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.