- Directed by Henning Schellerup
- October 31, 1980
- Loosely based on Washington Irving’s 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
- *Updated on October 11, 2022
New schoolmaster Ichabod Crane encounters Brom Bones and the Headless Horseman when he arrives at the small town of Sleepy Hollow in this loose television film adaption of the Washington Irving story.
When I was little The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was for me was the definitive version of the story. It did not matter I never actually read the story until I was in my teens. This was Halloween appointment television for me. By the time I remember actually encountering this I was familiar with Jeff Goldblum’s turn in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (and I love that movie!) so catching him in this was a real treat for me. In fact I think this cemented my fandom of Jeff Goldblum.
And who better to play the character of Ichabod Crane other than Jeff Goldblum. I now know Goldblum fits the literary description of Crane perfectly. He is tall, thin, and lanky just like the character is described. When it comes to Goldblum, it is clear by this movie that he had his acting technique down pat. Every nervous tick and stutter and inflection that he is famous for was on full display here.
In the original story Ichabod was a believer in the supernatural as well as seeking a bride to better his station in life. Here he is a fervent doubter who eventually becomes convinced. Ichabod is just a good guy just trying to make his way in the world. This is one of several differences between this TV movie and the source. As a child I was unaware of this but now that I am, I can forgive it. I just cannot see Goldblum pulling off being a believer in this role.
Meg Foster was cast as the object of Ichabod’s love, the young Katrina Van Tassel. That woman has some of the most fascinating eyes I have ever seen. She is a deep voiced actress with very pale blue eyes. She turns in a fine performance as she often does. In the book Katrina is supposed to be 18 and I believe at this point Foster was in her early 30s.
Aside from the performances of Goldblum and Foster, the acting is pretty mediocre. Dick Butkus, while entertaining, was no great actor here. He was a well-known name, so I am assuming that is why he got cast. I will say though that further down the road his acting did improve. By the time Blue Thunder rolled around, which was not too far from this, he was much better than he is here. There was no emotion or inflection in his delivery. He sounded like a dad reading to his kids a story he hated.
We have an original character in the form of widow Thelma Dumkey (Laura Campbell). Her inclusion gives what can best be described as a romcom subplot to the film as she plots with Katrina. Katrina wants Ichabod while Thelma wants Brom. Why I am not sure. It just is. Brom is no catch in the story.
At times The Legend of Sleepy Hollow borders on camp. In particular the actor playing the previous schoolmaster Winthrop Palmer (Michael Ruud) was just goofy in his performance. He was quite the ham here and not in the good John Colicos way. It was in a cringy, bad community theater by someone who does not realize it is just community theater way. Palmer is supposed to be crazy by the time of the film, but it just does not work.
The script though was better than expected. Even when I am unaware of changes to the source material, I tend to react poorly when it is done. It rarely works on any level. I never reacted like that. The changes fit in with the narrative and did not cause any significant deviations or halt the film’s flow. Ichabod remaining in Sleepy Hollow and getting a happily ever after with Katrina worked largely because this change was not abrupt but rather the groundwork had been laid for it from the beginning.
I do not know if it is because of when this TV movie was made or what but during the day it is really bright in this movie and at night it’s very poorly lit. It is the difference between 20/20 vision and Helen Keller at times. When filming, there is dark because it is night and dark to set a mood at night and dark because the budget limited the number of lights. I think the issue with lighting was the third item.
I do give them that the costumes looked good here. Not great but better than cheap costume shop items. My issue was that they were so dark in color that at night the characters tended to disappear into the blackness. It made the already difficult task of visually following the action that much harder.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a childhood favorite of mine that has not aged too badly. While it tries nothing new or inventive, it is a good piece of comfort food to watch. It is available in its entirety on YouTube (and unfortunately not elsewhere), and I recommend you give this a look.