Film Review: Johnny Tremain
In 1957, Robert Stevenson released Johnny Tremain, based off the 1944 Newbery Medal winning novel of the same name by Esther Forbes. Starring Hal Stalmaster, Luana Patten, Jeff York, Sebastian Cabot, Richard Beymer, Rusty Lane, Walter Sande, Whit Bissell, Walter Coy, Will Wright, Virginia Christine, Ralph Clanton, Lumsden Hare, Gavin Gordon, and Geoffrey Toone, the film had an unknown box office gross. Liberty Square in Walt Disney World and the Liberty Tree within the square are taken from the film.
Talented apprentice silversmith Johnny Tremain has a bright future ahead of him. However, all of it is ruined when he burns his hand in molten silver while working on a piece. Looking for a new life and new line of work, he befriends a boy and becomes a messenger for a Boston newspaper, which ends up getting him caught right in the beginning of the American Revolution.
An incredibly mediocre film, Johnny Tremain has all the trappings of a film made for television, but given a theatrical release. Everything about the film feels like it would have been much better on the smaller screen as the way it carries itself gives off the vibe of presenting its audience with a series of issues that Johnny must face paced with spots that seem like it would be perfect for the film to cut to a commercial break. For instance, there’s the portion of the film where Johnny is looking for a new line of work and he eventually gives up to go see Mr. Lyte and see if the man will believe that Johnny is his relative. The moment right after Lyte leaves in his carriage just feels like the exact spot a commercial break would be with Lyte’s houseboy answering the door after the film resumes. There’s also the issue Johnny had with his hand. When the molten silver fuses it together, he loses the use of it but the film only treats it like an issue at various points that pass quickly. Further, in a scene that feels like the film should be coming back from a commercial break, Dr. Warren casually mentions that he was able to separate the fingers and it’s never a problem after. If the film isn’t going to treat it with the same degree of weight and actually have it be a problem for Johnny outside of only a few scenes, then the audience doesn’t need to care either.
As a whole though, the plot is pretty average as a coming-of-age film, with Johnny growing out of his cocky attitude following an accident he had while working when he wasn’t supposed to. However, that’s all that really happens with Johnny and he doesn’t grow much. While he does lose the cocky attitude that plagued him as a silversmith apprentice, it pretty much disappears as soon as he has the accident that costs him the use of his hand and after his conflict with Lyte, he doesn’t seem to have too much of a problem. Johnny succeeds as a messenger for the Boston newspaper, gets involved with the genesis of the American Revolution and is eventually seen to have been the one to notify the person in charge of lighting the lanterns to notify if the Regulars were coming by land or sea. Johnny’s hand getting fused was merely a catalyst for an adventure that barely changed him.
The characters are all pretty interesting as far as the film lets them be. Notably, it doesn’t make all the Englishmen out to be villains and actually makes them more personable with exception to Lyte. For instance, there’s General Gage who seems to have some sort of sympathy with the colonists, but is forced to do his job in taking up arms against them. There’s also the admiral who looks to either have admired the colonists for their tenacity during the Boston Tea Party or may have simply found it amusing.
The acting isn’t too good though, with Cabot giving the best performance as Lyte. However, one performance that really stands out is Luana Patten as Priscilla. For some reason, she can’t stop smiling whenever she’s talking and it often becomes quite distracting.
Honestly, it stands to reason that the book the film is based off of is much better.
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