The Pursuit of Happiness (1971)

The Pursuit of Happiness (1971)


A sensitive college kid (Michael Sarrazin, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) drives down the street and accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian. The young man’s wealthy relatives come to the rescue, but they only make things worse.

Reaction & Thoughts:

The Pursuit of Happiness, written by George Sherman and Jon Boothe, and directed by Robert Mulligan (To Kill A Mockingbird and Summer of ’42), is your typical counterculture film — it’s a full-frontal attack on American complacency. When it comes to films like this one, context is everything. A little extra effort is required here to understand the issues.

However, considering the fact that today’s jaded Millennials have a thing or two in common with the “dazed and confused” baby-boomers, this is perhaps a bit less dated than what it appears to be at first glance. The film’s anti-establishment vibe is harder to swallow for people like me (Generation X), who are perpetually stuck between the two discontented generations. Frankly, I could never understand what a seemingly intelligent young man had against “mainstreamness.”

Mulligan, a fine director with no discerning style, had a soft spot for frustrated characters, and this picture is no exception. This is not one of his best films though. Mulligan did much better the same year with Summer of ’42, a far more effective exploration of discontentment. Thematically and stylistically, The Pursuit of Happiness is just a bit too flat, and that probably explains its obscurity.

Mulligan does get good performances out of Sarrazin and Barbara Hershey (The Entity), who plays Sarrazin’s faithful girlfriend. The cast includes lots of familiar faces. E. G. Marshall (Twelve Angry Men) plays a powerful lawyer. Arthur Hill (The Andromeda Strain) is Sarrazin’s father. William Devane (Rolling Thunder) plays a pilot. Barnard Hughes (The Lost Boys) has a bit as a judge. Charles Durning (Tootsie) appears as a cop. Also with Rue McClanahan (TV’s The Golden Girls), Robert Klein (Primary Colors), and, in her last film role, Ruth White (No Way To Treat A Lady).

Composer Randy Newman (Monsters Inc.) wrote the film’s theme song —  an appropriately lazy ballad — and sings it during the credits.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Overall, The Pursuit of Happiness is an okay time capsule with a terrific cast of character actors. Not to be confused with Will Smith’s 2006 bio-pic The Pursuit of Happyness. Color, 93 minutes, Rated PG-13.


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