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Inventor Thomas Edison's boyhood is chronicled and shows him as a lad whose early inventions and scientific experiments usually end up causing disastrous results. As a result, the towns folk all think Tom is crazy, and creating a strained relationship between Tom and his father. Toms only solace is his understanding mother who believes he's headed to do great things. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When young Tom jumps on the train to sell his maple candy, he tells the first customer the price is "a nickel". The scene takes place in the late 1850s. The first US nickel five cent coin wasn't issued until 1866. (At the time, the only 5¢ coin was a half-dime, a tiny silver coin but not called "a nickel".) See more »
After "The End" title page, a portrait of Tom Edison is displayed and, after some of the inventor's many accomplishments are noted, then the camera pans back to show Spencer Tracy admiring the painting while the narrator announces the forthcoming "Edison, The Man (1940)" biography (featuring Tracy in the title role). See more »
Written by George Cooper and Henry Tucker
Played by Fay Bainter on the organ
Sung by Virginia Weidler, Mickey Rooney and George Bancroft
Variations played throughout as part of the score See more »
YOUNG TOM EDISON (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940), directed by Norman Taurog, is an fact-based screen retelling of the boyhood years of one of the true greats in American history, Thomas Edison. As suggested by its opening passage, "This is a story of courage, the courage and triumph of a typical American boy. In all its essential facts, it is a true story. The boy actually did experience the adventures - the joys and sorrows portrayed here. His name might have been John Jones or Bill Smith. It happens to be Thomas Alva Edison." Rather than relying on sources covering Edison's entire life from birth in Milan, Ohio (1847) to death (1931), the screenplay, consisting of material by Harlan Dowry, which often plays like segments listed from Mark Twain's beloved character, "Tom Sawyer," the story as scripted deals mostly with Tom Edison of Port Huron, Michigan, a boy genius and the early life as he lived it.
While the screenplay does toy a bit about the facts, overlooking the Edisons having seven children with Tom being the youngest, the narrative introduces Samuel Edison (George Bancroft), a hard-working husband; Nancy (Fay Bainter), his wife and former schoolteacher in Canada; Bill (John Kellogg), his elder son whose character is least interesting and under developed; Tannie (Virginia Weidler), the youngest daughter; while young Tom Edison (Mickey Rooney) is portrayed as the middle child While Tom is portrayed as a misunderstood 16-year-old who's irresponsible and accident prone, it's his love for science that actually stands in the way him having a normal childhood. Tom may be different from the other children but is very special in the eyes of both his mother and sister. Then there's Mr. Edison who not only constantly tells Tom, "Take your hands out of your pockets," but fails to find time and patience to accept him for what he is. Classified as slow and stupid by his spinster schoolteacher (Eily Malyon), Tom's also the laughing stock by most, especially his classmates, namely Joe Dingle (Bobby Jordan), a school bully and son of a local hardware store owner (Victor Kilian). Portions of the story depict Tom's heroism by saving the life of a station master's (J.M. Kerrigan) little boy (Richard Nichols) from an oncoming train; Tom earning a living by selling candy and newspapers on a train under Mr. Nelson (Eugene Palette), the conductor; Tom having to carefully dispose of nitroglycerin on a train full of people; and his expert knowledge sending messages through Morse Code. Because of situations beyond his control, Tom loses both job and respect from those around him, causing him to believe those accusations made against him.
As much as these episodic situations take place during the course of a few years, it gives every indication of it set during the course of a few weeks. Whether the screenplay is true or not, whether Rooney physically resembles Tom Edison or not really doesn't matter much for that YOUNG TOM EDISON is a great film. Once seen, its hard to forget these standout scenes: the development of Tom's inventive mind brought forth by some clever devises; tender moments of family togetherness as the Edison's gather around the piano singing to the much underscored "Sweet Genevieve"; Tom finger rolling his right eye-brow while coming up with a positive solution; Mrs. Edison's motherly advice to her son as any mother could; Tom's despair while walking aimlessly through the rain as he hears in his mind voices of laughter and ridicule following his pleading with local business owners to give him a job; plus the climactic race against time segment as Tom makes every effort to save an oncoming train from danger through some ingenious plan.
Aside from Rooney's excellent portrayal, Fay Bainter stands out most as the understanding mother while Virginia Weidler gives an unforgettable performance playing Tom's younger sister who repeatedly tells him with amazement, "Gosh, you're smart." George Bancroft with mustache and sideburns should not go without mention playing the stern father. Humor, sentiment and moral lessons in the tradition of Tom Sawyer are thrown in on few occasions, the best being where Tom Edison tricks his way from taking his overshoes and muffler on to his next ventures. With apple pie and milk being his favorite meal simply shows young Tom Edison the all-American boy with a bright future of great inventions ahead of him.
When YOUNG TOM EDISON played regularly on commercial television prior to the 1980s cable TV generation, usually on Edison's birthday, February 11th, the promotional announcement presented after the film's closing showing Spencer Tracy in forefront of Thomas Edison's portrait as narrator talks about an upcoming sequel, EDISON, THE MAN (1940), was usually omitted. Not until its broadcasts on Turner Classic Movies has this final segment been restored in both 1991 home video distribution and later DVD presentations. Thanks to films such as these does the name and legend of Thomas Alva Edison live on. (****)
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