Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986. The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!
This week, Mr. Roarke reunites a family and arranges for a man to battle a “ghost.”
Episode 2.20 “Birthday Party/Ghostbreaker”
(Dir by Cliff Bole, originally aired on March 3rd, 1979)
This week, Tattoo has both a joy buzzer and a pink carnation that squirts water. He explains to Mr. Roarke that he read somewhere the women love a man with a sense of humor. “I want to be the king of humor on Fantasy Island,” he explains.
“Lucky us,” Mr. Roarke replies while dramatically rolling his eyes and reminding viewers of just how much he despises his scene-stealing assistant.
As for the two fantasies, this is another episode where the fantasies don’t really seem like they should be happening on the same island. One is rather serious. The other is a bit cartoonish.
The first guest to get off the plane is Elliott Fielding (Ken Berry), a librarian who believes in ghosts and who is pretty sure that he knows how to exorcise a ghost from a haunted location. He’s so confident that he’s even written a book about it. However, because Elliott has never actually seen a ghost, no one is willing to publish his book. Elliott’s fantasy is to exorcise a real ghost and prove that his theories are true. Mr. Roarke obliges by taking him to a mansion that Roarke explains was once occupied by a murderer known as the Gentleman Strangler. Now, however, it’s a private all-girls boarding school! (This is one of those episodes that leaves the viewer wondering just what exactly Fantasy Island is exactly. When the show started, it was just a resort. Now, it appears to have become a thriving nation, home to not only industry but also an exclusive boarding school.)
The school’s students have been reporting sightings of the ghost of the Gentleman Strangler. Elliott sets out to exorcise the ghost and along the way, he falls in love with the school’s headmistress (Annette Funicello). He also finds an enemy in the form of the school’s fencing instructor (Larry Storch). Oddly there aren’t any other teachers at the school so I guess the students just spend all of their learning how to fence.
This was an odd fantasy because, on the one hand, you had this ghost potentially threatening to strangle a bunch of teenage girls and, on the other hand, you had the very broad comedy of Ken Berry and Larry Storch facing off. Of course, it turns out that there really wasn’t a ghost haunting the school so, at first, it appears that Elliott’s fantasy didn’t come true. However, after Elliott leaves, Roarke explains to Tattoo that Elliott actually did meet a ghost when he had a conversation with a helpful handyman. That probably would have been a good thing to let Elliott know before he left but …. well, Mr. Roarke does what he wants. If there’s any lesson to be learned from watching Fantasy Island, it’s that Mr. Roarke makes the rules and it is best to never question his arbitrary decisions.
Meanwhile, Carol Gates (Janet Leigh) comes to the island to be reunited with the twins (Skye Aubrey and Christopher Stone) that she gave up for her adoption. I was expecting the twins to reject her or to be angry. Instead, with her support, her son gets signed to a football team and her daughter decides not give her own children up for adoption. Yay! It was a bit of an easy fantasy, with little of the drama that I was expecting. But Janet Leigh was a talented actress and she’s good here, bringing a lot of genuine emotion the story.
The fantasies were a bit mismatched but I like ghost stories (even when they’re a bit silly) and Janet Leigh is one of my favorite actresses so this trip to Fantasy Island was worth it.
I’m certain that everyone who lives on Fantasy Island and the guests are all ghosts (and don’t know it). Roarke is just giving all these souls their “last wish” before moving on.
Roarke and Tattoo are adversarial because they’ve been doing this for thousands of years.