Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, The (1970)

Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, The (1970)

“First of all, I don’t know what I want to do; and second of all, I keep changing my mind!”

College student Stanley Sweetheart (Don Johnson) explores sex, drugs, and underground filmmaking in New York.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • College
  • Counterculture
  • New York City
  • Sexuality

Based on Robert T. Westbrook’s semi-autobiographical novel, this counterculture curio is primarily notable for featuring Don Johnson in his screen debut. While Stanley’s not exactly sympathetic (like many 20-something males, he’s both self-absorbed and sex-obsessed), his attempt to keep his two disparate lives — one sex-and-drug filled, the other monogamous — separate from each other is unique and somehow believable. Johnson is a charismatic cutie, and folk singer Holly Near as Stanley’s pudgy yet sexually confident conquest is enjoyable as well. With that said, the screenplay (which clings faithfully to its source material) often feels like simply a filmed version of a more introspective narrative, with the resolution (a key character suddenly dies) coming out of nowhere; because we can’t see into the “magic garden” of Stanley’s mind, we don’t understand the true significance of this event in his life. Ultimately, Stanley Sweetheart remains a flawed and dated film, but is worth a look if you stumble upon it; my dark-hued copy was taped off of TNT years ago.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Don Johnson in his screen debut as Stanley Sweetheart
  • Michael Greer as “Cherry”
  • Holly Near as redheaded Fran

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended, and a must for any Don Johnson fans.


2 thoughts on “Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, The (1970)

  1. And then there’s ‘The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart’…

    Not a must, but peculiar; an episodic, coming-of-age mood piece that a) does capture the ’60s in a way that, in retrospect, many other ’60s films did not, but b) lets us know all too soon that it has nowhere to go. (In fact, the last 20 min.+ spin wildly out of control, and the conclusion is a mess.)

    Rarely have I come across such a mishmash. It starts off in a very unpromising manner but, along the way, segments pass for inspired. Occasionally you might even think, ‘Hey, this Johnson guy is pretty good.’ (It passes; though I must say he nails the narcissistic ‘horn-toad’.) And certain sequences do stand out – in particular, the extended one in which Johnson intends to seduce his girlfriend’s roommate (knowing she’s an easy lay); Holly Near is rather winning here (esp. her laugh at the suggestion of being filmed masturbating), but less so later when she turns into – well, the female version of Johnson. (Not really known as an actress, Near has an odd filmography: this, ‘Angel, Angel, Down We Go’, ‘Minnie and Moskowitz’, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, ‘Dogfight’.)

    One odd sequence has Brandon Maggart coming on to Johnson in a diner, implying strongly that Johnson is a stud before quietly propositioning him. You have to listen very closely to hear Maggart say, “I wanna touch your dick.”

    Johnson’s fantasy life seems to have inspired Woody Allen in some of his earlier films. (Note, for example, the street scene after Johnson first seduces Near. Not to mention the fantasy in which Johnson makes love to Near while saying to his girlfriend, “Hey, the roast smells good!”)

    Sadly, there are many longueurs. And many, of course, oh-so-’60s elements, i.e. corny montages. (And note Greer’s suggestion to Johnson: “Just be.” Speaking of Greer, how…different…to see him playing a heterosexual character.)

    Chances are, this is going to be a tough film to come across. Bottom line, though, it’s not very good; but ffs on the lookout for something verrry quirky (even if ultimately unsatisfying) will find themselves somewhat diverted.

  2. And let’s face it — Don Johnson was a hottie; we get to see plenty of wonderful shirtless footage. Perhaps it was the compromised quality of my bootleg, but it actually took me a while to recognize him. He’s perfect for the role, somehow, and I can’t really fault him at all given that whatever flaws the film has (and there are many) are a result of the script and — at times — the overly self-conscious direction.

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