SHUCKS—Tom Sawyer Didn't
By Iris Con lay
CATHOLIC HERALD Film Critic
IT is a long, long time since I read my Adventures of Toni Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but I have always remembered two things— the expression " shucks" and a collec tion of queer black and white pen drawings which illustrated our edition (situated left-hand side of bottom shelf of dining-room bookshelves) which made both Tom and Huck out such scarecrow urchins that they had not the least hint of sex appeal for little girls like me.
Either those illustrations were misleading or else David 0. Selznick is running off with the bit between his teeth in his Technicolor version of Tom Sawyer. His Torn (though still appropriately grubby) is the most fetching Kate Greenaway lad any little girl could hope to meet. And didn't his girl friends Becky Thatcher and Amy Lawrence think so too. Tom, being a bit of lad, knew his value and so cashed in on Becky while he had the chance, leaving poor little chicken-pox Amy out of it after an " engagement " barely a few weeks old.
I think the Technicolor glamour shed on the character of Toni was my big disappointment in this film of Mark Twain's masterpiece. No doubt the psychology of tinting the story into charming unreality was sound enough box office— had the story been started off in a studio all would have been perfect—but as it is all is just well, but not perfect. I would even suggest that those who have not read their book will enjoy the film the more for their ignorance.
And there is lots and lots to enjoy. I like the cuteness of young Tom, who, when
prompted to paint a Dead Cat fence on a half-holi Wart-cure day. from school, is
subtle enough to suggest to his pals that the job is such an enviable one that if they cared he would let them do it for him—at a consideration. I also like the wart-cure invented by Huck, who says that a dead cat in a graveyard at midnight and an invocation to the devil to take both cat and wart, is certain remedy.
Other people like the more melodramatic incidents. The murder by Injun Joe witnessed by Tom and Huck gets some (and by Technicolor moonlight it is all very creepy); the court scene where lnjun Joe throws his gleaming knife right at Tom gets others; while nearly everyone is got by the long haunting sequences of the cave of stalagmites and stalactites that nearly ends the short lives of little Tom and Becky.
Personally the simple joks are mine. The custard pie throwing may be monotonous to a . generation
Tom was a brought up on Holly Simple Person wood's experts at this game, but every time the villain is caught in the eye by mixtures as rare as whitewash or strawberry shortcake there is a laugh. Torn balanciog on a fence; Tom bewildered by his aunt's harshness; Tom defending his girl-friend at school from a whacking; Tom's delight in plunging into the river, his smile, his arrogance, his timidity, his short-lived moods are all more lasting in my imagination than the spectacular dramatics of the story. The cast is nearly an all-children one. The enthusiasm with which they play is evident. Not Tom (Tommy Kelly), or Huckleberry (Jackie Moran), or Becky (Ann Gillis), or Sid (David Holt) are specially brilliant, but all the youngsters who inhabited the Toni Sawyer studios are magnificent little actors worth a large percentage of a star's salary for their work.
With the advent of Tom Sawyer begins a period of child films. You mark these words, the children are coming and we shall have them with us this long while, I'll be bound. Parents beware, or your
to Denham instead if they can't get to Hollywood stowaway.
I know what you are going to say directly you have seen Der Spiegel (The Mirror). That if the writer of a story which has " an argument theme " behind it has no intention of arguing the theme out to a logical conclusion then he had better not write
controversial fiction at all. But I don't agree. . . Why? We shall see.
Der Spiegel, the last Austrian film finished before Hitler entered Vienna, deals with a time-honoured argument — should quack doctors be allowed? The medical faculty at the university thought not naturally, but Paula Wessely playing the part of a medical student there had other very diverse thoughts, nor are we surprised when we, too, have seen her father—a secret quack himself—at work, and know the results. There is an early clash in the film between her loyalty to her father and quackery, and her loyalty to her doctor husband and orthodox medicine which she practises herself.
The story is slowly and thoughtfully built up. But it is the story that is built up not the theory of orthodoxy v. quackery, and in the end, although the story finishes up tidily and satisfactorily, the argument is unresolved; left in the air for you, the observer, to feel what you like. And since the film is entertainment not instruction, this seems to me in order. The artist presents but does not draw conclusions, this last function is that of the judge.
Paula Wessely is the most powerful, restrained and utterly responsive actress the world has yet offered this generation, her portrayal of this part, which lent itself to the most melodramatic fireworks and jelly tears for those who like such toys, is played with terrific intensity and softest touch. Probably it is the greatest test Paula has yet been put to. Her praises cannot be overloaded, and the film is worthy of that rare thin e—serious observation.