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Tom Sawyer, Detective (1938)

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Title: Tom Sawyer, Detective (1938)

Tom Sawyer, Detective (1938) on IMDb 7/10

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Billy Cook ...
Porter Hall ...
Uncle Silas
Phil Warren ...
Jeff Rutledge
Ruth Phelps
Elisabeth Risdon ...
William Haade ...
Jupiter Dunlap
Edward Pawley ...
Brace Dunlap
Clem Bevans ...
Sheriff Slocum
Raymond Hatton ...
Judge Tyler
Howard M. Mitchell ...
Stanley Price ...
Harry Worth ...
Clara Blandick ...
Si Jenks ...
Farmer Sykes


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Release Date:

23 December 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tom Sawyer detective  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


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 »

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When in Doubt Make a Sequel
18 October 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Most people are aware that Mark Twain wrote a successful novel called TOM SAWYER in 1876, which has never been out of print. Based on his recollections of his youth in Hannibal, Missouri, Twain created a permanent boy's book about youthful coming of age and adventure. He followed it with his masterpiece, HUCKLEBERRY FINN (about Tom's closest friend) in 1885. Although he wrote five to seven other major works besides these two, most people recall TOM SAWYER and HUCKLEBERRY FINN as the novels they have read by Twain.

What most people don't know is that Twain kept toying, in later years, with returning to the two boys. He actually wrote two novellas, TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE and TOM SAWYER ABROAD. The former is the basis of this film, so more a little later. The latter was actually one of two literary works by Twain where he spoofed popular writers of his age he did not like. In A DOUBLE-BARRELLED DETECTIVE STORY he makes fun of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle (Twain disliked detective stories and made mincemeat of them in THE STOLEN WHITE ELEPHANT). In TOM SAWYER ABROAD he deals with a balloon voyage from America to Africa and the Middle East, and he is spoofing Jules Verne (complete with a mad aeronaut).

Twain also would try a western story (which was published in LIFE MAGAZINE back in the 1960s), TOM AND HUCK AMONG THE INDIANS. It was never finished. In the end of his life he had plans of taking the two boys to their last days, and having them die together. A Broadway play based on that idea was produced in the 1980s with George C. Scott and John Cullum.

The story of TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE is based on an actual crime story - but an ancient one from the late 17th Century. It involved Soren Quist, who was executed for murder in Veilby, Denmark, on circumstantial evidence. The story involves disguises and twins. Twain simply puts the story into the Mississippi Valley, involving Tom's Uncle Silas, who supposedly murders Jupiter Dunlap and is put on trial for his life. What the actual villains don't know is that Tom is aware of an alternative victim, and of a stranger who is not behaving as he should be. Tom is the dominant figure in the story (and the film), with Huck as "Dr. Watson" in the case.

The film is rarely shown nowadays. The last time I saw it listed was about 1968. It was a fair example of a "B" feature, but had nothing outstanding going for it except an interest in movies based on Twain's works. Even though a young Donald O'Connor was Huck Finn, he did not really shine in it too much. Porter Hall did have some moments acting mysteriously, trying to bury a body at night. I also recall Billy Cook (as Tom) preening himself in the courtroom while confronting the villains on the witness stand. It was not a boring film, so I give it a "6" out of "10", but I would not move heaven and earth to try to see it.

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