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FANTASTICKS, THE (director: Michael Ritchie; screenwriters: from a musical play by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt/screenplay also by Jones & Schmidt; cinematographer: Fred Murphy; editor: William Scharf; music: Jonathan Tunick; cast: Joel Grey (Bellamy), Brad Sullivan (Hucklebee), Teller (Mortimer), Jean Louisa Kelly (Luisa), Joseph McIntyre (Matt), Jonathan Morris (El Gallo), Barnard Hughes (Henry); Runtime: 85; United Artists; 1995)
“It’s a trifle, but was pleasantly presented and I found it to be an adequate though not a scintillating production.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This upbeat but outdated film is adapted from a musical two-act play by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, it’s the longest-running show in the history of the American theater (it opened at an off-Broadway theater in the spring of 1960 and ran for over forty years). The film was made in 1995 but wasn’t released until 2000, as the producers must have realized there was something magical missing in the film for it to be as popular as the play. What that is, is difficult to say–except this work might not be meant for film as much it is made to order for the stage. The music was fine. It featured the familiar songs such as “Try to Remember,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” “I Can See It” — which keep the film from coming apart. Perhaps where the film went wrong, is that the dramatics looked phony and it was never heartwarming. In any case, the main actors were correctly cast and the set scenery (filmed in the Arizona desert) was colorful though stagy. Teller (of the Penn & Teller magic act) is in a rare speaking role. Jean Louisa Kelly is winsome as the naive heroine with youthful yearnings for adventure, and Joseph McIntyre (formerly a member of New Kids on the Block) is easy to take as the hero in distress. The film is stolen by Jonathan Morris’s wry-witted role as the handsome rogue with tresses and a heart that is not all bad.

Hucklebee (Brad Sullivan) and Bellamy (Joel Grey) are a pair of hick fathers living in neighboring farm houses, who are staging personal fights for the purpose of bringing their teenagers Matt (Joseph McIntyre) and Luisa (Jean Louisa Kelly) together in marriage. They believe the kids will take their “no” as a sign to rebel and to get together, so they use it as reverse psychology.

As a carnival arrives to the sleepy town both fathers give money to a magician named El Gallo (Jonathan Morris) to stage a mock abduction of Luisa, which should allow Matt to come to her rescue and be looked upon by her as a hero and end the feud between the neighbors. The abduction act works, but the kids figure out it was staged and react badly by becoming disillusioned with each other and their fathers. Matt jealously seeks out El Gallo to get even with him for stealing his girl, but gets out-dueled and drugged. Luisa falls in love with the friendly rogue, this is a part Errol Flynn might have relished playing. It is well-played by Jonathan Morris, as he promises to take her along on the carnival and gets her to give him as a present her mother’s necklace.

The moral lesson becomes how the innocent children must grow up, as experience is the best teacher. It’s a trifle, but was pleasantly presented and I found it to be an adequate though not a scintillating production.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”