Gene Kelly was at the peak of his career in the early 1950s, making such memorable musicals as Summer Stock, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain and Brigadoon. One side adventure he took away from musicals was a delightful family film called The Happy Road (1957). It had no singing or dance sequences. Kelly directed the picture himself and you can see his little touches throughout the film, especially in the mannerisms of the two leading child actors Bobby Clark and Brigitte Fossey.
The story revolves around these two children – Danny and Janine – who escape from a private school in Switzerland in order to be with their parents in Paris. Danny’s father Mike (Gene Kelly) is a widower who is in France on business. He is frustrated with the inefficiency of the French workers and just wants to finish up his work in order to return to the States, where he believes people are much more sensible. Janine’s mother Suzanne (Barbara Laage) is a divorcee who is about to be remarried in Monte Carlo.
After these two parents discover that their children have run away together they decide, with the aid of the police, to head the children off before they get too far along the journey to Paris. Much to their chagrin, these youngsters travel at a faster pace then they imagined and are always one town ahead of them on the chase. It is this chase through France that makes up much of the picture.
Filmed entirely in France, The Happy Road takes its audience throughout the petites villes enroute to Paris. Danny and Janine find aid from other children and people they meet along the way, including a mute giant, a picnicking family, and members of a bicycle road race. They travel by foot, truck, and canal boat whereas Mike and Suzanne go via the main roads by motorcycle and scooter.
While the story itself revolves around the children, the main characters are the parents, who realize that perhaps they were putting their own interests and desires before their children. Mike comes to learn that the French people are indeed living the better way; they consider life itself more important than the busyness of life that Mike takes part in.
The Happy Road is a charming film and it earned the UN award as well as the 1958 Golden Globe for best film in Promoting International Understanding. Also in the cast is Michael Redgrave as a thoroughly British military general. Maurice Chevalier sings the sparkling title song.
Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”