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The classic Mark Twain tale of a young boy and his friends on the Mississippi River. Tom and his pals Huckleberry Finn and Joe Harper have numerous adventures, including running away to be pirates and, being believed drowned, attending their own funeral. The boys also witness a murder and Tom and his friend Becky Thatcher are pursued by the vengeful murderer.Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
TOM SAWYER (Paramount, 1930), directed by John Cromwell, is a highly enjoyable 84 minute juvenile comedy-drama adapted from Mark Twain's beloved story and immortal character, best described during the opening credits inscribed on a hard-bound book cover, "Tom Sawyer, the Immortal Story of a Boy." Of the many kid actors who could have played such an important role, the logical choice for its time was none other than former child star of the twenties, Jackie Coogan. Coogan, a notable young actor of who gained immediate success appearing opposite the legendary Charlie Chaplin in THE KID (First National, 1921), soon became as legendary to the silent screen as Chaplin himself through a series of starring roles in films for First National and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. By 1930, it was time for the now adolescent Coogan to either retire from the screen or attempt in the new medium of talkies. And what a great start for he to be seen as well as heard in this classic literary title role of Mark Twain's beloved Tom Sawyer.
Following the title credits presented through pages of an open book, the film opens on a riverboat bound for St. Petersburg, Missouri, followed by scenery of the rural town, a couple of gossiping women and men gathering in the post office/ grocery store before the plot development of its basic main characters begin. Tom Sawyer (Jackie Coogan) is introduced as a barefoot boy orphan living in the home of his late mother's sister, Aunt Polly (Clara Blandick - Auntie 'Em in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), and his cousins, Mary (Mary Jane Irving) and little Sidney (Jackie Searle, a momma's boy and tattletale. Although the boy is clever in his ways of talking his way out of anything, he finds he can't talk his way out of the strict upbringing of Aunt Polly, who seemingly favors Sidney over Tom. Tom's best friend is Huckleberry Finn (Junior Durkin), an orphan as well as an outcast. One of Tom's favorite recreation is playing pirates with his friends and getting even with Sidney. With the character introduction underway, a series of events leading to the day and the life of Tom Sawyer immediately follow: Tom spending his Saturday afternoon painting a long wooden fence as punishment ordered by Aunt Polly, and smooth talking his passing friends to do the work for him, thus, taking credit for it; picking a fight with a dude boy named Joe Harper (David Winslow), who, after having "nuff," becomes his friend; Tom meeting and falling in love with a new girl in town, Becky Thatcher (Mitzi Green), whose famous line to Tom later on is, "Why did you have to be so noble" after getting punished by his teacher (Lucien Littlefield) for something Becky did; Tom and Hunk at a cemetery past midnight where they see three other men and witnessing a murder of a Doctor Rafferty; Tom, Huck and Joe playing pirates at Jackson Island where a few days later, return home where they attend their own funeral at the church after their supposed drowning; Tom in the courtroom on the witness stand testifying the innocence Muff Potter (Tully Marshall), and naming the real killer; the cave sequence where Tom and Becky separate themselves from the classmates where Tom comes face to face with Injun Joe (Charles Stevens), and some unforeseen dangers to follow.
Other members of the cast consist of Ethel Wales (Mrs. Harper); Charles Sellon (The Minister); and Jane Darwell appearing briefly as the Widow Douglas. The popularity to TOM SAWYER lead way for an immediate sequel, HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1931), with basically the same leading players, including Jackie Coogan himself.
With the most recent screen adaptation to TOM SAWYER (Paramount, 1917) starring Jack Pickford thirteen years into the past, it's surprising there weren't more Tom Sawyer movies produced in the silent era as there were years after the advent of sound. David O. Selznick produced an excellent retelling to Mark Twain's story as THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938) starring newcomer Tommy Kelly in the title role. With that being close to a scene for scene remake to the Coogan version, it was also given the lavish Technicolor treatment as well. The story of Tom Sawyer would be told and retold many times after-wards, ranging from further theatrical and television adaptations, many with slight alterations, but often re-enacting basic factors lifted from both book and screen carnations.
Commonly shown on commercial television at least once annually during the 1960s and 1970s, TOM SAWYER slowly phased out of view after limited revivals on public television in the 1980s, turning this once renowned product into a now forgotten one, eclipsed by either the Selznick 1938 release or latter but newer adaptations as well. Regardless of its age, TOM SAWYER is still a timeless story the way Mark Twain intended it to be. While it lacks background music, super-imposing camera-work and good casting still make this a watchable item. It's also worth a look for the teen-age Jackie Coogan, years past his prime as a child star, and decades before his numerous television roles, especially that of Uncle Fester in the weekly comedy series THE ADDAMS DAMILY (1964-66). "Nuff" said. (***1/2)
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