Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971)

Article 5049 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-13-2016
Directed by Mark Robson
Featuring Rod Steiger, Susannah York, George Grizzard
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy/drama

After having been missing in the jungle for eight years, a macho hunter/soldier of fortune returns home to his wife and son, who have to adjust to the changes in their lives.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote the screenplay for this, adapted from his own stage play. I’ve encountered Vonnegut before in this series, having seen SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (a better movie) and SLAPSTICK (OF ANOTHER KIND) (a much worse movie). Most of Vonnegut’s work falls within the bounds of science fiction, but this is one of the exceptions. Most of it plays a like a straight comedy-drama, but a few scenes take place in heaven, a place where everyone plays shuffleboard and which apparently doesn’t exclude certain individuals for reasons of morality (Adolf Hitler and Jack the Ripper are there, for example). I’d read the play many years ago and didn’t feel it was one of Vonnegut’s best efforts, though I think it plays better once you match up actors to the characters. This one has an excellent cast, with fine performances from Steiger, York and William Hickey. It’s a meditation on life, death, heroism, cultural changes, and anything else that crosses Vonnegut’s mind. It’s an interesting movie, though I’m not sure it’s a great one; it’s one I may have to think about and revisit before I really know how I feel about it.


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