Right after the H.R. Pufnstuf television series ended its initial run, this film was quickly made to take advantage of its popularity. Financed by Universal and Kellogg’s, the sponsors of the TV show, this film adds two new witches alongside Billie Hayes’ Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo: Witch Hazel, played by co-creator Sid Krofft’s neighbor Cass Elliot and Boss Witch, played by Martha Raye, who was so beloved by the cast and crew that she ended up playing Benita Bizarre in the Kroffts’ next show The Bugaloos.
The first choice to play Boss Witch? Bette Davis. When Sid called her, she was so upset that she was his first choice to play a witch that she hung up on him.
Pufnstuf is going to seem absolutely insane to anyone who didn’t grow up in the 70s. It tells the story of Jimmy (Jack Wild), who gets along with absolutely no one in his school and then ends up getting kicked out of the school band before he meets a magical talking flute named Freddy. Today, we would get Jimmy the right drugs and therapy and he’d be successful integrated into a group of kids that would understand him — before mercilessly roasting him on social media — but in 1970 Jimmy ends up on an evil boat and being taken to Living Island, which is ruled by Mayor H.R. Pufnstuf.
As for the antaognists, Witchiepoo wants to steal Freddy the Flute away from Jimmy in order to impress the visiting Witches’ Council and win the Witch of the Year Award. Oh yeah — th witches also plan on eating Pufnstuf, who I assume tastes like the best sashimi ever made.
What’s wild is that Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox worked together for the first time creating the music for this movie and stuck together afterward, writing the songs “Killing Me Softly with His Song”, “I Got A Name”, “Ready To Take A Chance Again” and many other popular songs.
You know who had it rough? Marty Krofft, who accepted the guardianship of Jack Wild while the teenage boy was working in the United States, in addition to producing the show and movie.
I’ve always wondered if McDonald’s ripped off the Kroffts. And I was right. The show was the subject of a successful lawsuit — Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions Inc. v. McDonald’s Corp., 562 F.2d 1157, — which was decided in the Krofft’s favor by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1977.
Pufnstuf the movie was directed by Hollingsworth Morse, who also made Daughters of Satan and Ark II, and was written by John Fenton Murray, who also scripted Arnold, Lidsville, Sigmund and the Sea Monster and Partridge Family 2200 AD., and Si Rose, who wrote plenty of TV.
You can now get this movie from the awesome people at Kino Lorber, who have released it on blu ray along with an extra trailer. I’m excited to have this film as part of my collection and you will be too.