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The 1957 Disney film, Johnny Tremain, was originally intended for television, but was sent to theatres first. Lucky for it that it did, else it wouldn’t have been eligible for review on this blog!
Based on the Esther Forbes novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a young boy in the days before the American Revolution takes off. Is the film adaptation worth viewing? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As implied above, the film takes place during colonial America wherein a young boy, Johnny Tremain, played by Hal Stalmaster, is an apprentice to a silversmith, Mr. Lapham, played by Will Wright. They’re soon given the task to create a new silver cup for a rich aristocrat named Jonathan Lyte, played by Sebastian Cabot.
Mr. Lyte owns a set of silver cups and wants this new one to match his set. Mr. Lapham thinks he’s too old to do such fine, intricate work like this anymore, but Johnny convinces him that he can do the job. Johnny’s motives aren’t strictly work ethic-based though. Apparently, his mother gave him a silver cup similar to the ones in Mr. Lyte’s set before she died. It proves that Johnny is related to this wealthy Lyte family.
Johnny tries to make the cup, but it doesn’t come out right in the beginning. He even wants to spend time on the Sabbath to work on it more, but the God-fearing, Bible-reading Mr. Lapham won’t hear of such a thing! So when Mr. Lapham leaves the silversmithing workplace on the Sabbath, Johnny secretly tries to finish making the cup with the help of Mrs. Lapham and her daughter, Priscilla, played by Virginia Christine and Luana Patten, respectively. In the hullabaloo, Johnny accidentally burns his hand rendering it useless.
As the days go by, Mr. and Mrs. Lapham begin to weirdly swap personalities. Mrs. Lapham gets tired of Johnny being useless and demands to see Johnny’s bandaged hand to make sure he’s not faking.
And Mr. Lapham tones down his strictness and tells Johnny that although he can no longer work for him, he’s welcome to stay in their house as long as he wishes. Johnny doesn’t want to stay in the house for free and leaves to find another job, much to Priscilla’s disappointment.
Finding a job proves difficult though with his bum hand, but as luck would have it, Johnny bumps into Mr. Lyte one day. He tells Mr. Lyte how his mother told him he’s related to the Lytes and that he even has his silver cup to prove it. Mr. Lyte doesn’t believe this at first, but invites Johnny over to his house later on. When Johnny arrives, Mr. Lyte has a constable with him and they arrest Johnny for possession of the silver cup as one of Mr. Lyte’s cups was recently stolen and he thinks the one in Johnny’s possession is the stolen one.
This leads to a court case wherein Johnny is exonerated after Priscilla is brought as a witness. Johnny had shown Priscilla his silver cup sometime before Mr. Lyte’s cup was stolen, so the one in Johnny’s possession couldn’t be the stolen one. Johnny is then happily released.
Johnny soon takes up with a group called the Sons of Liberty, a group growing more upset with unfair taxation by the British Empire. Johnny gets to work for them by working in a printing press that prints their newspaper as well as by delivering messages between the members. The members include Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and Dr. Joseph Warren, among others.
One day, the Sons of Liberty dress up as American Indians and throw crates of tea from a harbored ship into the waters below, i.e. the Boston Tea Party.
Not to mention, they get their own catchy theme song afterwards!
But as you can imagine, the Sons of Liberty get more and more upset with the British Empire as new information is known. A division is made distinct between the average Americans like Johnny Tremain and the pro-England aristocrats like Mr. Lyte.
It’s not long before the pot boils over and fighting soon becomes incumbent. Armed American volunteers meet the British Army at Lexington, Massachusetts, and soon shooting starts. Who fired the first shot? Nobody knows as the shot would later be known as the “shot heard round the world”.
The American Revolution has officially started and many proud Americans are eager to fight for their country. And our Johnny Tremain is no exception!
And that was Johnny Tremain. It’s not a horrible film, but not much happens until the last third or so of the film, so you can lose interest in the beginning. The stories of Johnny being accused of stealing the cup and the American Revolution starting don’t seem connected at all in the slightest! And it’s very odd to make a movie about a couple of events leading to the American Revolution and then ending it right before the official war is underway! Had it been a documentary focusing on all the aspects leading up to the revolution, I would have been okay with it. But when you’re relating a narrative about a fictional character that takes place in a real world event, it’s just odd to stop right before anything big happens.
Hal Stalmaster definitely puts effort into his performance, but sometimes he just has the same facial expression in multiple scenes. Sebastian Cabot is great though, as always! Not to mention Peter Ellenshaw’s amazing backgrounds really reel you into the film!
All in all, if you wanna check out the film, you won’t be frustrated. But there are probably better ways to spend your time!
So, my final score for this film is 22/35 = 62.86% (D-) !
The next review will be posted on February 19, 2019.
7 thoughts on “Johnny Tremain (1957)”
I haven’t seen this one yet! Thanks for the nice review!
Thanks for reading!
I am one of the few people assigned to read the book this is based on as a child who genuinely enjoyed it. I felt it had likable, 3-dimensional characters, and gave me a good idea of what it would have been like to have been alive back then.
When I watched this on the other hand on TCM, it just felt incredibly dull. The plot was thin, I had no investment in any of the flat characters, and it just felt like a made-for-television special about the Revolutionary War designed to be shown in fourth-grade history classrooms.
Hey Kirk, long time no hear from you!
Yeah, you can definitely feel the made-for-TV vibes of this film! I’m glad to know somebody read the book.
Pretty much the absolute best movie EVER made… (I’m a history nut) as soon as I found your blog I had to make sure you gave this movie a good review or the rest’s not worth reading… good review but you didn’t rave as much as I would’ve XD And you forgot to mention the best character…
Lol, glad you enjoyed this movie! Who was the best character?
Rab Silsbee, of course!