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Stanley Kramer had a boom year in 1952. The independent producer, known today for his liberal take on socially relevant themes, had worked on a total of seven films between his first in 1942 and his acclaimed adaptation of Arthur Miller's Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning drama Death of a Salesman (1951). Then in 1952, Kramer's company released seven more pictures between March and December alone, among them the three-time Oscar® winner High Noon and the film adaptation of Carson McCullers' play The Member of the Wedding (1952), which earned Julie Harris a Best Actress nomination. Somewhere in the middle of all this activity and acclaim, Stanley Kramer Productions made The Happy Time, which had enjoyed a successful run on Broadway. The story was taken from the first play written by Samuel A. Taylor, who went on to create Sabrina Fair (made into the Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina in 1954 and remade in 1995), The Pleasure of His Company (filmed in 1961), Avanti! (filmed in 1972) and others. Taylor also co-wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958).
Taylor's play was based on stories by French-Canadian writer Robert Fontaine and bore a certain thematic and stylistic resemblance to Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, the coming-of-age tale Ah, Wilderness!. The film version of The Happy Time features Louis Jourdan as a free-living, globe-trotting salesman who returns to his small hometown in Quebec in the 1920s to visit his eccentric family. His travel tales have a profound effect on his impressionable young nephew Bibi, inspiring the boy to live life to the fullest, much to the chagrin of the boy's stern father and cantankerous grandfather.
The latter two roles are played by two other French actors, Charles Boyer and Marcel Dalio. Kurt Kasznar and Marlene Cameron were the only members of the Broadway cast to make it into the screen version. Bibi is played by Bobby Driscoll, who off-screen was as troubled as the character he plays. A popular child actor from the age of 6 with a long-term contract with Walt Disney Productions, Driscoll had received an "Outstanding Juvenile Actor" Academy Award as the beleaguered boy in the noir thriller The Window (1949). Except for one final job for Disney, voicing the title role in the animated Peter Pan (1953), The Happy Time was Driscoll's last major film appearance. As he got older, roles became harder to come by, and he fell into a tragic downward spiral of hard drugs and poverty. He was found dead of a heart attack at the age of 31 in an abandoned New York building.
The film, director Richard Fleischer, Boyer and supporting player Kasznar were all nominated for Golden Globe Awards. Earl Felton's screenplay was also nominated as Best Written American Comedy by the Writers Guild of America.
The Happy Time was turned into a Broadway musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb in 1968, winning Tony Awards for director/choreographer Gower Champion and lead actor (in the Boyer role) Robert Goulet.
Director: Richard Fleischer
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Earl Felton, based on stories by Robert Fontaine and a play by Samuel A. Taylor
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Editing: William A. Lyon
Art Direction: Carl Anderson
Original Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Charles Boyer (Jacques Bonnard), Louis Jourdan (Uncle Desmond Bonnard), Marsha Hunt (Susan Bonnard), Bobby Driscoll (Bibi), Linda Christian (Mignonette Chappuis).
by Rob Nixon