Johnny Tremain (1957)

Synopsis: Johnny Tremain, a silversmith's apprentice is drawn into Revolutionary politics on the patriotic side.

Dramatis personae:

Hal Stalmaster .... Johnny Tremain
Luana Patten .... Priscilla 'Cilla' Lapham
Jeff York (I) .... James Otis
Sebastian Cabot .... Jonathan Lyte
Rusty Lane .... Samuel Adams
Walter Sande .... Paul Revere
Walter Coy .... Doctor Joseph Warren
Ralph Clanton .... General Gage
Lumsden Hare .... Admiral Montagu
Gavin Gordon (I) .... Colonel Smith
Geoffrey Toone .... Major Pitcairn

Also Known As:
Johnny Tremain and the Sons of Liberty (1957)

An apprentice to a master silversmith, Johnny Tremaine who has suffered a severe injury for violating his master's instructions nonetheless has an inside view on revolutionary agitation leading to the Boston Tea Party, the Midnight Ride, and ultimately Lexington and Concord.

While the events are described in their familiar form, Esther Forbes the historienne par excellance does throw several important hints on how well organized the Americans took the ill-prepared British by surprise.

Despite Disney magic in the production of the traditional version of farmers' uprising against a British incursion, Johnny Tremaine shows that the rebellion has been seething out of sight of the British for months. If the British ultimately step down the road to seize powder and supplies the rebels have been collecting, the Red Coats march one step behind the rebels at every turn.

The cast which Disney assembled to make the classic was hardly of all star calibre. Sebastian Cabot who would star as Kris Kringle in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street (1973) was the only actor of note. The rest never rose above bit parts on big and small screens. Whit Bissel (Josiah Quincy) played in more than 200 movies. Best known for his role as the evil scientist who turned Michael Landon into a werewolf in `I Was a Teenage Werewolf' (1957), Bissell was type cast as a bit player specializing in authority figures usually evil or corruptible. In the ecological diaster classic Soylent Green (1973), Bissel played heroic Charleton Heston's nemisis Govenor Santini.

Johnny Tremain
Johnny Tremain
Could the British have expected what would follow as they formed into ranks and prepared for their search and destroy mission?

Esther Forbes above all the writers on the subject had good inside information on the subject.

The Johnny Tremain flowed from the pen of Esther Forbes, is neither an ideologue nor a rabble rouser but a boy who is growing to manhood in revolutionary times.

Born to educated parents of old Yankee stock on June 28, 1891, Esther Forbes was the fifth of six children. Her father William Trowbridge Forbes was a lawyer who dabbled in mathematics; her mother Harriette Forbes was an historian and a writer.

Extremely nearsighted and perhaps dysflexic,Esther triumphed over her disabilities. Her first published short story"Breakneck Hill" won the O.Henry Prize in 1915. Her first published novel O Genteel Lady! received critical acclaim for mastery of technique.

Johnny Tremain also has a disability he must overcome. His hand is injured. He can't easily fire a weapon. To stand in the firing line he must cover his scars with a rag.

Esther Forbes may have been among one of the first American writers who orientated a work around a character's physical disability, but unlike melodramaticists who copied her the disabled Tremain would prefer to triumph over his affliction unnoticed by others.

Yet Esther Forbes' Puritanic symphathies are ever present. Mirror for Witches, defends the Puritan's infamous persecution of supposed witchcraft. Though out of step even in the 1930s, Mirror was called "terrific" and "marvelous" by the critics. The best defense I can think of the Salem witchhunt is that occasionally one can hate the Devil so much that one starts doing the Devil's work for him.

Johnny Tremain Johnny Tremaine on DVD at B & N.

And if the British officers snickering at the colonials outside Boston could have expected the reception Imperial forces would have received, the British might never have imagined that the narrow, intolerant, bigoted, Puritans could get the rest of America to join hands in rebellion against the tolerant English King. A Red Coat might have expected the Puritans too ready to immerse themselves in religious wars with their neighbors to join together and fight the Crown.

And the Revolution Ms Forbes knew well was capable of many twisted yarns. In The General's Lady, (1938), based on the life of Bathsheba Spooner, a colonial dame who hired hitmen to rid herself of a patriot husband in favor of an Englishman, justice was served when Bathsheba met the hangman's noose for plotting homicide.

When Esther Forbes wrote Johnny Tremain, she presented the Revolution not from the point of view of icons cut from stone but took unique personal course retelling the tale as one of a mere boy, not a leader and not an orator, in fact a boy, many do not want in the front lines. Ms Forbes created a living face and a voice for the statues chisled in stone.

The Disney production is remarkable for capturing the costuming of the period. The Liberty Song sung by the Rebels is a version of an authentic period air Heart of Oak.

Esther Forbes did not put aside the Revolution after Johnny Tremain. Paul Revere and the World He Lived In appeared in 1942.

Movie Review: Johnny Tremain © 2003 by HA Andrews ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

HA Andrews is RPPS Commandant and maintains the RPPS Cultural Service.