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, DETECTIVE (Paramount, 1938), directed by Louis King, the studio's contribution to the current trend of Mark Twain stories transferred to the screen, may not be quite as important as David O. Selznick's Technicolor release of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (United Artists, 1938) featuring Tommy Kelly in the title role, but a worthy offering to the further adventures of Twain's most beloved fictitional characters of Tom Sawyer and his friend, Huckleberry Finn. Although no connection to Selznick's production, it does come close to being the long delayed sequel or third installment trilogy to Paramount's earlier editions of TOM SAWYER (1930) and HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1931) that featured that former child star of the silent screen, Jackie Coogan (1914-1984), and teenage Junior Durkin (1915-1935) in their individual title roles. With Coogan having outgrown his Sawyer character, and Durkin having since died in an auto accident, the only performer from the initial two installments to reprise a role happens to be that of Clara Blandick as Aunt Polly. The major characters here have been recast by the younger but lesser known set of Billy Cook (not to be confused with other kid actor, Billy Lee) and Donald O'Connor playing Tom and Hunk, plus new surroundings for those Mississippi boys in straw hat, overalls and bear feet, finding new adventure and murder mystery in store.
Adapted from one of Mark Twain's lesser known works featuring his legendary characters, the story begins as Tom Sawyer (Billy Cook) bids farewell to his Aunt Polly (Clara Blandick) as he, accompanied by his best pal, Huckleberry Finn (Donald O'Connor), to spend their summer vacation together at the farm of Tom's uncle, Parson Silas Phelps (Porter Hall), Aunt Sally (Elisabeth Risdon), and their daughter, Ruth (Janet Waldo). While on board the steamer, Tom and Huck encounter Jake Dunlap (William Haade), a man in fear of his life, keeping to himself in his cabin. Jake entrusts the boys a secret of being trailed by a couple of thieves after diamonds he's hidden in his boot. After helping Jake sneak off the boat in disguise, Tom and Huck are welcomed into the Phelps home where they are stunned to find the handyman to be Jake's twin brother, Jupiter (William Haade). Jake, having taken up residence in a nearby cabin, is later found murdered by Jupiter and Brace (Edward Pawley). Due to an earlier argument he had with Phelps, Jupiter switches identities with his deceased brother, puts the blame on Phelps, who left him for dead in the forest, and have him arrested by the Sheriff "Turkeyneck" Slocum (Clem Bevans). While Phelps awaits in jail for the upcoming trial, Tom and Huck join forces as junior detectives doing some crime solving of their own. Other participants in the cast are Phillip Warren (Jack Rutledge, lawyer); Etta McDaniel (Tulip, the Maid); Stanley Price (Sheriff Walker); Raymond Hatton (Judge Tyler); and Si Jenks (Farmer Sikes).
Unlike the earlier SAWYER-FINN adaptations, plus MGM's upcoming release of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1939) starring Mickey Rooney, TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE is strictly "B" material without any recognizable marquee names. Billy Cook (1928-1981), who makes a commendable Tom, appeared in a few more films before disappearing completely from acting by 1942. Aside from a spooky segment in the cemetery and his courtroom segment as he attempts to prove the Parson's innocence on the witness stand, Cook's Tom also has to endure an assortment of loving kisses from a little girl (no, not Becky Thatcher) who claims him as her hero. Donald O'Connor, on the other hand, the most recognizable name in the cast by today's standard, found success in an assortment of teenage musicals for Universal in the forties, followed by stage, nightclub and television appearances in later years. Aside from the "Francis, the Talking Mule" film series (1949-1955) for Universal, his most immortal role was that of Cosmo Brown in MGM's lavish musical, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds.
Unseen on broadcast television since the 1970s, TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE was one of those now forgotten items that used to air regularly in the New York City area prior to 1973 on WPIX TV, Channel 11. The 65 minute movie, at that time, was usually placed on a one hour time slot (commercials included) that eliminated the opening minutes involving Tom and his Aunt Polly. The complete product was later broadcast on a couple of occasions on New Jersey's WTVG, Channel 68, before disappearing from the television markets completely in the Metropolitan area by 1978. Never distributed to cable TV or home video, a print can be found on DVD through a company called Loving the Classics.
A movie obviously geared for kids should still be of interest to middle-aged children with fond memories having seen this one on black and white television with rabbit-ear antenna during their younger days. (**1/2)
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