|John Forsythe and Jean Simmons in Richard Brooks' THE HAPPY ENDING.|
I'd never heard of the film before, but I was sufficiently intrigued by the pedigree of THE HAPPY ENDING (1969) to watch: Jean Simmons, written and directed by Richard Brooks (her second husband, made directly after his astonishing IN COLD BLOOD), photographed by Conrad Hall (following his work on IN COLD BLOOD and COOL HAND LUKE), music by Michel Legrand (which at times apes Quincy Jones' jazz cues for ICB though it also yielded the MOR hit "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?"), Shirley Jones (amazing and sexy - she had won an Oscar for her work in Brooks' ELMER GANTRY), John Forsythe (again ICB), Teresa Wright, Robert (Bobby) Darin, Dick Shawn, Lloyd Bridges, Tina Louise.
It's packaged as the story of a violent divorce (anniversary cake in the trash), but it's more the story of a happily married woman's crises of identity and middle age - how she needs to break out of her routine to look forward to new beginnings rather than continue drinking away the years separating her from old age and death. While there is some cheesiness about its greeting card depictions of middle-class contentment and the need to escape it, the film's audacious, time-shifting construction shows that PERFORMANCE was hardly an isolated case even in 1969; even by today's standards, this stands out as an admirable piece of writing and construction, well worth seeing by those who don't mind movies that end not with answers but (rather like Ken Russell's WOMEN IN LOVE, made the same year) with a pointed question. It also opens with some of the most ravishing color photography of New York City that you'll ever see, and is generally a demonstration reel for Conrad Hall's evolving genius.
There is a handsome Blu-ray disc available from Twilight Time, with excellent liner notes by Julie Kirgo that offer helpful background information and perspective on this unfairly overlooked production.
(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.