Saturday, September 04, 2010

cinema obscura: Mark Robson's "Happy Birthday, Wanda June" (1971)

If you've wondered whatever happened to Mark Robson's 1971 film version of the Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. play, "Happy Birthday, Wanda June," starring Rod Steiger, Susannah York, Don Murray and George Grizzard, you'll be happy to know that it still exits - sort of. No thanks to Sony, which now owns the old Columbia film library. But more about that later...

This is yet another studio film that has never been released on DVD, Laser, VHS or Beta.

Steiger does his inimitable Hemingway thing as Harold, an adventurer who seemingly got lost in the Amazon and possibly died, leaving a wife (York) and son (Steven Paul) behind.

His wife has moved on in many ways when Harold suddenly materializes with an oddball sidekick (William Hickey, who else?). Much to his chagrin, Harold discovers that things have changed during his absence. Pamelyn Ferdin plays the titular Wanda June, a deceased child who plays shuffleboard with Jesus while commenting on the action.

An odd film, not great but definitely worth seeing.

The only known existing 35mm print (a new one) of the film was screened at San Francisco's invaluable Castro Theater three years ago - in August of 2007 - a rare showing that gave me hope that perhaps, just perhaps, Sony was preping the title for an upcoming DVD release. But it never happened.

Sony has been doing great work of late. It's really come through in many areas. Let's hope that this eccentric, eclectic work makes its to-do list.

Finally, a word about Mark Robson: He is an unsung filmmaker I shall forever honor for such contributions as "The Seventh Victim" (1943), "Home of the Brave" (1949), "Phffft!" (1954), "The Bridges of Toko-Ri" (1954), "Trial" (155), "The Harder They Fall" (1956), "Peyton Place" (1957), "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" (1958), "The Prize" (1963), yes, "Valley of the Dolls" (1968) and "Limbo" (1972).

5 comments:

Chris said...

As for the list of Robson films you admire ... what about "Isle of the Dead" or "My Foolish Heart"? I wouldn't count myself as a Robson fan, but I do like those two a lot, plus "The Seventh Victim."

I'm also curious about "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting," largely because of the Larry Cohen connetion. Wonder if it's any good ...

joe baltake said...

I remember good things about "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting," mostly about Carol White. Whatever happened to her?

david w. said...

Daddy's Gone A-Hunting is pretty good! I caught it on VHS a few years back.

Tim said...

Robson was eclectic, I'll give him that. He never quite knocked one out of the park, but he was usually did well with what he had to work with. I like the Val Lewton stuff (although Ghost Ship is kinda weak) and Champion, which gave Kirk Douglas his first big dramatic lead.

a.n. said...

"Daddy" is out on DVD Warner Archive. It's just OK.. an odd abortion themed drama. Feels more Lorenzo Semple Jr than Larry Cohen.