The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
1938, Dir. Norman Taurog - 91 min. / Technicolor / 1.33:1
Kino Lorber Blu-ray $29.95
Gosh, I’d hate to live in an America where everybody doesn’t know Mark Twain’s greatest works by heart, but I guess I do. David O. Selznick warmed up for Gone with the Wind by adapting this perennial favorite, showing how close he could stick to the source material and craft a great movie by bringing it to life.
Not surprising, the hardest part was the casting, but he found a gem in Tommy Kelly, who didn’t go on to a career in movies but sure does himself proud in this one, helped along by director Norman Taurog, who knew a thing or two about directing kids, having helmed Skippy (starring his nephew, Jackie Cooper) and Boy’s Town. The fine supporting cast includes May Robson as Aunt Polly, Walter Brennan as Muff Potter, Ann Gillis as Becky Thatcher, Jackie Moran as Huckleberry Finn, and – and what an and! – Victor Jory turning in one of the great villainous performances in the history of the screen, Injun Joe.
Tom, ruminating on his future: “I think I’ll be a general, then, when I come home. With my sword and metals and maybe one leg off.”
Beautifully filmed in Technicolor® by James Wong Howe, but not too splashily – the film has a nice, nostalgic glow to it. William Cameron Menzies designed the storyboards and is rumored to have directed the climactic sequences in the cave.
Alas, other than the trailer there are no extras on the new Kino Lorber disc, which includes both the original 91 min. cut and a 14-minutes-shorter reissue version from the mid-1950s. Best of all, it’s a lovely print and transfer of a film that’s endeared itself – as the novel did – to several generations of film fans, adult and child, since 1938. It’s a keeper.