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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938 film)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
UK DVD cover
Directed by Norman Taurog
H.C. Potter (fired, uncredited)
George Cukor (uncredited)
William A. Wellman (uncredited)
Produced by David O. Selznick
Written by Mark Twain (novel)
John V.A. Weaver
Marshall Neilan (uncredited)
Starring Tommy Kelly
Jackie Moran
May Robson
Ann Gillis
Music by Max Steiner (uncredited)
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Distributed by United Artists
Casanave-Artlee Pictures (1945 re-release)
National Telefilm Associates (NTA) (1958 re-release)
Filmways Australasian Distributors (1977 Australian re-release)
Buena Vista Television (USA TV)
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment (2012 DVD) (3 film set)
Release dates
  • February¬†11,¬†1938¬†(1938-02-11)
Running time 91-93 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a 1938 American literature adaption directed by Norman Taurog starring Tommy Kelly in the title role. The screenplay by John V.A. Weaver was based on the classic 1876 novel by Mark Twain. The picture was the first film version of the novel to be made in color. It was remade in 1973 as a musical.


  • Plot 1
  • Production notes 2
  • Cast 3
  • Reception 4
  • Sequel 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The United Artists release includes most of the sequences familiar to readers of the book, including the fence-whitewashing episode; a wild raft ride down the Mississippi River; Tom and Huckleberry Finn's attendance at their own funeral, after the boys, who were enjoying an adventure on a remote island, are presumed dead; the murder trial of local drunkard Muff Potter; and Tom and Becky Thatcher's flight through a cave as they try to escape from Injun Joe, who is revealed to be the real killer.

Production notes

This was the fourth screen adaptation of the Twain novel, following versions released in 1907, 1917, and 1930, and the first filmed in Technicolor.

External links

  1. ^ Memo from David O. Selznick, selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer, The Viking Press, 1972, pg. 168
  2. ^ Memo from David O. Selznick, pp. 124-125
  3. ^ at Turner Classic MoviesThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  4. ^ Memo from David O. Selznick, pg. 125
  5. ^ Memo from David O. Selznick, pg. 156
  6. ^ reviewTime Out London
  7. ^ reviewTV Guide
  8. ^ David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 268


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a version of Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a different cast the following year, replacing Jackie Moran with Mickey Rooney.


The film lost $302,000 at the box office.[8]

It received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, and the Venice Film Festival Mussolini Cup for Best Film.

TV Guide described it as "a lively production featuring a quick pace, a chilling climax, and a surprising amount of wit."[7]

Time Out London called the film "extraordinarily handsome to look at, with exquisite Technicolor camerawork by Wong Howe and some imaginative designs . . . [it] has its longueurs, but it does capture the sense of a lazy Mississippi summer and much of the spirit of the book, with Jory making a superbly villainous Injun Joe."[6]



Some exterior scenes were filmed at Big Bear Lake, Lake Malibu, Paramount Ranch in Agoura, California, and RKOs Encino movie ranch. Other scenes were filmed on recycled sets left over from A Star is Born (1937), such as the Boldgett family home interior (kitchen, living room, & bedroom), and a silhouette of a wolf howling at the moon. Mississippi River long shots from Tom Saywer would later be reused in MGMs 1951 musical Showboat.

On the strength of the designs for the cave sequence executed by William Cameron Menzies, Selznick hired him for Gone with the Wind.[5]

After reading the comment cards completed by an audience at a sneak preview of the film, Selznick sent director Taurog a memo expressing concern about the climactic scene in the cave, which many viewers had described as "too horrible for children." He advised Taurog "this worried me, because we certainly want the picture to be for a family audience," and as a result he was cutting a close-up of Becky, in which her hysteria was "perhaps a shade too much that of a very ill woman, rather than that of a little girl," "with regrets."[4]

Tommy Kelly, a Bronx fireman's son, was selected for the title role through a national campaign waged by producer David O. Selznick, who later would conduct a similar search for an actress to portray Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. According to a 1937 memo he sent to story editor Katharine Brown, he originally hoped to cast an orphan as Tom, feeling such a stunt would receive "tremendous attention and arouse such a warm public feeling that it would add enormously to the gross of the picture."[2] Kelly failed to achieve the star status of fellow child actor Freddie Bartholomew, and after an inconsequential career he retired and later became a school teacher.[3]

Cukor directed some scenes, but received no on-screen credit for his contributions. [1]

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