After Keller made the T.V. movie Skeleton Key, he met up with Natalie Babbitt at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He liked her novel Tuck Everlasting and decided to produce and direct a film based on it. Filming was done in 1980 and was released on June 6, 1981. The film isn't well known, as most people associate "Tuck Everlasting" with the book or Tuck Everlasting (2002 film). However, the film can be found on VHS and rarely on DVD. It used to occasionally air on T.V.
The story involves the Tucks, a family who drank from a magic spring from the Fosters' little forest and became immortal (hence the name "Tuck Everlasting").
During an autumn harvest carnival in the fictional town of Treegap at the turn of the century, somewhere in upstate New York, a young man named Jesse Tuck (Paul Flessa), who is immortal, is riding on the Ferris wheel where he works. He decides to show off the crowd by doing dangerous stunts. People begin to notice including a man in a "jaunty" yellow suit. The man who runs the Ferris wheel stops its motor, causing it to stop spinning which leaves Jesse on top. This makes a constable to threaten to charge the man if the boy gets hurt. Jesse begins doing dangerous stunts which frightens the crowd. The Ferris wheel's brake wasn't on and when somebody bumps into it, it causes the wheel to turn causing Jesse to fall to the ground, making people think he broke many bones. After sitting, Jesse opens his eyes and jumps up, scaring the crowd. They eventually find it funny when the constable begins chasing after Jesse but Jesse escapes on a horse to a forest. This interests the man; the only person not laughing.
Meanwhile, a very depressed, bored 12-year-old girl Winifred Foster (Margaret Chamberlain) is sitting on her front lawn. She is so bored that she begins talking to a turtle which goes waddling by. She tells the turtle how much she hates it at home, and that she is not allowed to go to the fair. Two boys talking about Jesse are walking by. After talking to the turtle her mother and Grandmother call her in for lunch and then to practice piano. She says goodbye to the turtle as it goes to hide in a bush.
The next scene shows the Tucks at their pond on the other side of the wood, at their brown one story house. Mae Tuck (Sonia Raimi) is talking to Angus Tuck (Fred A. Keller) but is called "Angus" only a couple of times throughout. He is simply known as "Tuck," or "Mister Tuck." She asks him why he isn't waking up as it is already mid-morning. He says he likes sleeping as he dreams about he and his family are in heaven and never knew about Treegap. But she tells him he has to wake up to get the area ready as they will be having their ten-year reunion with their boys, Jesse (the one on the wheel) and Miles, and that nothing is going to change. Still asleep, he tells her to put her shawl away s the weather hasn't changed. Tuck warns her about going into town or the woods. But she says otherwise. She then asks Tuck to fix her music bx even though she is leaving in a few hours. He makes up excuses not to fix it but he agrees to fix it when she's back. She says she's going to keep it as long as she lived which isn't possible as they are both immortal as well. After Tuck asks what the boys have been doing, she then turns to talking about how fast time flies. And states 10 years is "as long as it takes to make a pot of coffee." She is on her horse in the late afternoon admiring the mountains and grasslands and cornfields of the upper New York countryside. The next scene shows a large beech tree with all kinds of twisty branches. At the bottom of the trunk, underneath an opening, is a small spring. The same spring the Tucks drank out of 87 years ago.
Meanwhile, Winnie is allowed outside again, as her mom practices piano. She swings on her swing, which is actually a noose used for Hanging but she uses it as a swing. She then looks at the bush the turtle hides in, and notices it covered with fireflies. She manages to catch one. Just then, the man in the yellow suit (James McGuire), the same man from the fair. He greets her and starts asking questions about fireflies but it then turns to questions about her personal life after she looses the firefly. After asking her if they have lived there long, she responds, "We've lived here forever," although an exaggeration, the man responds, "Forever, you say."
Her grandmother notices the man and comes out and asks the man what is business is on their property. He tries to be polite by calling her "good looking" and "Madam," but she doesn't buy it. She's about to tell him to leave when she hears the sound of Mae's music box, as Mae is riding through the wood. Grandmother claims it's the fairy music, and it only comes every ten years. Although it's only Mae reuniting with the boys every ten years. Even though Grandmother says it's the elves, the man knows something is up.
It's bedtime and Winnie is listening to her Grandmother telling Winnie's parents that it's the elves but her parents object. Father, Mr. Foster (Marvin Macnow), tells her grandmother to cut it out as he doesn't want Winnie in the woods as a man murdered his wife there.
The next morning, Winnie's mother chases a bunch of bunny rabbits away from her raspberry bush. Then, the milk float for the town comes to their house. Winnie takes her chance to escape while mother and the milkman are talking about the elves and Tom Sullivan (the man who killed his wife in the wood.) She doesn't know that the man is watching her, as he had been hiding there overnight. She runs to the entrance of the wood and then walks slowly and admires the wildlife running around and listens to the birds chirp. She notices the large beech tree, and she sees Jesse in one of the branches. He notices her staring and jumps down (as he can't be hurt). He then starts drinking out of that little spring under it. He notices neat feather and picks it up. They notice each other and they begin talking, when Winnie wants a drink, he keeps pulling her back from it. After she asks how old he is, he says 104, but then says he's 17. She feels the water, noticing that it's clean and cold, but he interrupts saying it's terrible, so she doesn't drink it. She tries to drink it but he pulls her back and helps her climb the tree, as it's nice and cool. Mae is coming, with Miles, and still playing the music box. She recognizes it from that night. She says it's elf music but Jesse tells her it's just their mom. When Mae realizes about the girl, she begins to look worried. Then the grandmother is not to far behind, so they grab Winnie and take her to their place. On the way there is the man, but holding a French pistol from the early 1800s. Only Winnie knows the man exists, and so he starts asking the Tucks questions. He says the gun doesn't work and fires it at Miles. They both claim it was just a misfire even though he actually shot Miles. But since Miles is immortal, he can't die. The man lies saying it's only a blank. On the way there, after crossing a bridge less river, Miles carries her across and Jesse shows off his immortality by jumping into a deep part of the river. After she gets worried, Jesse scares her by putting his hand on her shoulder. Unknown to them, but the man was watching the whole entire time.
They go to the Tucks house where Tuck is outside working on his wooden horses. Tuck is surprised to see her and offers her to go swimming with the boys. Winnie enjoys watching them play in the pond. Jesse tries to get Winnie to get into the water by splashing water. While Jesse and Winnie were playing, Miles, Mae and Tuck became increasingly worried about the man in the yellow suit.
Since the Tucks don't have a dining area in their home, they ate supper in their den, Winnie gets lonely and asks to be taken home. They tell her their story. Tuck says that 87 years ago before that, they say they're from the east, to find a place to live, and at the time, it was part of a large forest, and after a while of traveling they came to the area which is the now the wood. So they rested by the tree by its knobby roots, they drank the water, even the horse, everybody except the cat, named "Ginger." They later developed a farm, and a house, and began living a good life. But then when Jesse was getting rid of some branches but fell out of the tree and it was believed that he broke his neck. And then one night at sunset, and they shot her, mistaking her for a deer. The bullet when right through and didn't even leave a mark. Tuck got bit by a copperhead, Jesse ate poison mushrooms, and Mae cut herself slicing bread (disease was easy to get then.) After making friends, they realized that they were not getting any older. Miles was then more than 40, had a wife and a daughter, but he still looked to be 25. Their friends began to leave them, there was talk of witchcraft and black magic. They left the farm and went back, they noticed the tree and the spring. The tree hadn't grown one width since they saw it, and realized it must've been the spring. Tuck then demonstrates b melting a spoon in a fireplace using his bare hand and making a ring out of it. This amazes Winnie.
Early the next morning, Tuck takes Winnie out on a row boat out on the pond and tells her the dangers of selling the water, as somebody will most likely make it into a business, and just that little spring could create a world war. This wasn't thought of at the time as World War I wouldn't start for another decade.
Meanwhile, the man is riding on the Tuck's horse to Winnie's house.
While Tuck is giving good advice, he is interrupted when Miles yells that the horse had been stolen. They believe the man stole it, they ask Winnie and she tells them about the man asking questions and coming to her house but she couldn't finish as she begins crying into Tucks chest while he hugged her. Tuck only says, "I forgot what it was like being scared." Mae is up in the attic area where doves live, and so she "uncorks the bender." Music begins to play and they dance around.
Meanwhile, the man rides Tucks horse to the Fosters house where he makes a deal where he'll find Winnie with the constable (from the beginning) and look for her if they give him the wood. They don't know why he wants it, (he only wants the water.
Back at the Tucks, Winnie and Mae talk about Jesse and they have a "woman to woman" talk. Later that night, as Winnie's sleeping on the couch, Jesse wants her to drink the water when she's 17 so they can be with each other forever.
That night, the man and the constable are riding on different horses, the constable decides to stop and let his horse rest, the man decides to go on farther. The constable tells the man not to do anything and the man says yes.
A bit later, Winnie is sleeping when she hears a noise and gets scared when woken up. She asks if it's Jesse when it's actually Mae again. Mae says, "No, he's asleep, but dreaming of you I bet." Mae hums Hush, Little Baby to her.
The next morning there is a layer of snow on the ground. At breakfast time, Tuck begins to mention his concerns about the horse, as it's still alive somewhere and there's a possibility someone might know. Miles couldn't get any fish for flapjacks as the pond is to icy. Jesse comes down for breakfast and Tuck asks Winnie if she wants to come home but the man interrupts them, breaking the constables promise. He tells about how he was a little kid and was told tales about a family that would never die. Afterward. he pulls out his old pistol and pulls Winnie outside, threatening to make her drink the water and use her as a circus show and make the water a business, which Tuck warned about. He puts the gun to Winnie's head and threatens to kill her when Tuck comes with his double-barreled shotgun and shoots the man in the spine send him flying off of the hill and landing on a branch. The constable surprises them, and introduces himself as "Constable Thomas." Tuck is arrested and put in the town jail. If the man survives, Tuck will be free, if he dies, then he will be sentenced to death by hanging. The next day Winnie is back home, but is only sitting sadly on her swing. They believe she's in shock and think she had a horrible experience, when in reality, she is really sad about Tuck.
The next morning, the milk wagon comes, and the milk man says the man died that night, and Tuck will be hung. As the carriage is leaving, Jesse jumps off the back, and when Winnie tells him, Jesse says they will break Tuck out of jail at Midnight.
That night, the grandfather clock chimes 12 and Jesse's hanging upside down by the window and does a back flip in. They jump out of the window and run by foot to the sheriffs, using and ear of corn as a torch. They use Roman candles and firecrackers to distract the constable, as he deals with a group of teenagers who he believes are lynchers while the Tucks are busy at work. They replace Tuck with Winnie and they all say goodbye to her.
The next morning Winnie's father (Marvin Macnow) is directing her home and then they both apologize to each other. They notice a group of boys who Winnie becomes friends with later on.
Back at home, Winnie is a few years older, and her grandmother is on her last legs, as all she's doing is sitting and knitting. The doorbell rings and a salesman is selling turtles for stew, Winnie notices one of the turtles and realizes that it's her turtle. She gets to keep it but the man warns her that if he finds it again, it will be made into stew. Winnie upset, runs upstairs to her room.
Winnie, a teenager now is in a dry cornfield talking to the turtle, she still has a bottle of the spring water that Jesse gave to her and pours it all over the toad, but then she realizes that if they do try to kill it and it doesn't work, then they'll wonder, so she puts it into the woods and hides it.
There is an epilogue at the end. It's the late 1970s and Mae and Tuck are driving a Late 1960s Chevy C/K and they are saddened and also surprised how much changed over the years. They decide to stop and ask. They drive through the modern day Treegap and stop at a diner and grab coffee. They ask the waitress behind the counter about the wood, she tells them that lightning destroyed the whole forest and was replaced by a bunch of houses. They find a cemetery and find out that Winnie died in 1976. While sad that she had passed away, they were glad that she didn't drink the water. Jesse's working back at the carnival and meets a girl on a carousel named Katheryn Foster, most likely Winnie's granddaughter. Mae and Tuck get back into their truck when Tuck notices the turtle. He moves it while saying, "Darn fool thing thinks it's gonna live forever." The movie ends with the truck driving away and the turtle, Winnie's turtle, watching the cars pass.Margaret Chamberlain – Winnie Foster
Paul Flessa – Jesse Tuck
Fred A. Keller – Angus Tuck
James McGuire – Man in the Yellow Suit
Sonia Raimi – Mae Tuck
Marvin Macnow – Mr. Foster
Bruce D'Auria – Miles Tuck
Much of the film was shot in Western upstate New York State, the ending was filmed in Medina, New York. The Adirondack Mountains can be seen in the background quite often.Tuck Everlasting (2002 film)