7 June 2001 | Ron Oliver
From The Heart Of Mark Twain, Into The Hearts Of The World
THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER keep the small town of St. Petersburg, Missouri in constant turmoil, circa 1850...
This is a splendid family film, one of producer David O. Selznick's very best. Presented in wonderful Technicolor, it is like looking through the pages of an illustrated copy of the classic novel. All the favorite episodes are here. All of the performers are perfect in their roles. It is difficult to imagine a better transition from book to screen.
Elderly May Robson has one of her finest roles as harried, temperamental, lovable Aunt Polly. She easily steals every scene she's in & provides the sentimental heart of the movie. However, breaking out a bit, her last scene at the film's conclusion is hilarious. A small cluster of veteran character actors - Walter Brennan, Victor Jory, Donald Meek & Margaret Hamilton - are also exceptional in their roles.
12-year-old Tommy Kelly IS Tom Sawyer - he will instantly gain the respect & admiration of every prepubescent male in the audience. Beguiling & mischievous, with an infectious grin & sad eyes, he admirably fills the bare feet of America's most famous literary kid. The movie's other child actors - David Holt, Marcia Mae Jones, Ann Gillis & Jackie Moran - give excellent support. (Legend has it that Selznick found young Master Kelly in an orphanage. True or not, this was his best role. Very soon he was playing only bit parts and eventually left films around the age of 25.)
The cave sequence is especially noteworthy, thanks to the art design of William Cameron Menzies, the flickering camera work of James Wong Howe, and the moody music of Max Steiner. Spooky & claustrophobic, these scenes are the embodiment of every viewer's nightmares, and, thus, are tremendously entertaining.
It should be noted that while the character of Jim is correctly depicted as a slave, the film itself is blessedly free of the racism that blights so many Hollywood films of the 1930's.