The made-in-Canada-but-starring-Americans slasher movie Happy Birthday to Me was released 40 years ago today. Even through I’m not a horror movie fan, we watched the whole darn thing tonight, wall-to-wall gore, buckets of blood, screaming teens. I did the classic wimpy thing of covering my eyes when the yucky bits came on.
So why watch a scary movie when you don’t like them? Because my husband is in it, that’s why! Yes, now that I’ve mentioned it, you’ll remember his pivotal role as “Police Officer.” He has an entry in IMDb and everything, even though he’s called Stephen there and not Steven. I needn’t make fun as I don’t have any movie credits, and he has two (he was “Chubby Cadet” in another Canadian classic, Hog Wild).
Happy Birthday to Me starred Melissa Sue Anderson, who played the older sister Mary Ingalls on Little House On The Prairies, and Glenn Ford, who was in tons of classic Hollywood movies including Gilda, The Big Heat and Blackboard Jungle. Ford was born in Quebec, so must have gotten a kick out of being in Montreal for the shoot. (Or he just needed the money. I bet he probably just needed the money.) If Wikipedia is to be believed, Anderson later moved to Montreal with her family and they all became Canadian citizens, so she must have had fun, too.
The rest of the cast is filled with names and faces you’ll recognize if you watched Canadian TV in the 70s and 80s. Most of them probably did at least one episode of Street Legal or King of Kensington. And a lot of them were theatre actors who welcomed small parts in dumb American movies shot in Canada, because that’s what pays the bills. Frances Hyland was a much-beloved Canadian theatre star. Lenore Zann had at least one season at the Charlottetown Festival right after this movie before eventually entering provincial and now federal politics in Nova Scotia. Ron Lea had been at the National Theatre School with Steven, and I worked with the lovely Lesleh Donaldson on the play How Could You, Mrs. Dick? David Eisner, Matt Craven, and Louis Del Grande are all in there. Even Maurice Podbrey, who founded and led the Cenatur Theatre in Montreal, had a role in this goofy film.
I tried to interview Mr. Mayoff about his experience on set, but he didn’t have much to report, no gossip except that Mr. Ford didn’t want anyone watching him film his scenes, so the set would be cleared. Steven said Frances Hyland said something nice to him, but he doesn’t remember what it was. No reports of fist fights or how good craft services was or anything. Oh well.
Beyond Steven’s star turn, there weren’t any really outstanding performances. Hyland gave it her all, and managed somehow to retain her dignity. I actually enjoyed the movie much more than I thought I would. It’s a pretty terrible script, but it was so ridiculous that it was funny.
I’ll leave you with photos of Steven delivering his one line, in both Spanish and Japanese subtitles. He was hired as an extra, given a line, and the rest is Canadian movie history. There are no small parts, only small actors with big hats that hide their faces.