Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-Action Edition. Johnny Tremain.

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Johnny Tremain

Year: 1957

Source materials : based on the 1944 Newbery Medal-winning children’s novel of the same name by Esther Forbes.

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Budget: $700,000

Plot: Johnny Tremain is apprenticed to a silversmith, Mr. Lapham. One day, wealthy Jonathan Lyte asks Mr. Lapham to make a sugar basin to match his grand set of silverware. Lapham refuses because he believes he is too old for such jobs. Tremain believes he is skilled enough to do the job, and accepts. After trying several times but failing, he asks fellow silversmith, Paul Revere, for help designing a new handle. Revere tells him to make the handle deeper and larger.

Eager to try the new design, Johnny breaks the Sabbath and accidentally burns his hand. The damage is so severe that he will never have full use of the hand again, and cannot continue as a silversmith apprentice. No one will hire him with only one usable hand. The Sons of Liberty recruit him as a messenger, to secretly inform members of the times and locations of meetings.

Johnny confides to Priscilla Lapham, Mr. Lapham’s daughter, that he is secretly related to Mr. Lyte. He shows her a christening cup bearing the Lyte family crest as evidence. Desperate for money, he approaches Lyte and shows him the christening cup. Lyte assumes that Johnny stole the cup, and files charges against him. Josiah Quincy defends Johnny in court. Introducing Priscilla as a witness, Quincy proves Johnny’s innocence.

Afterward, Tremain and the Sons of Liberty become active in several notable events leading to the American Revolution, including the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Ride, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord. During the Boston Tea Party, Dr. Joseph Warren offers to restore Tremain’s hand, allowing him to return to his profession.

Background: The film was made for television, but first released to theatres. Walt Disney understood the new technology of color television and filmed Disneyland in color. But the show was broadcast in black and white. After its theater run in 1957, the film was shown in its entirety on television in two episodes on November 21 and 28, 1958.

Songs: The musical score for Johnny Tremain was composed by George Bruns with lyrics by Tom Blackburn. The film is notable for the song “Liberty Tree.”

Cast:

Hal Stalmaster as Johnny Tremain. He had a few acting roles afterwards including roles on Cavalcade of America, The Rebel, The Swamp Fox, My Three Sons and Twelve O’Clock High. Jeff York as James Otis. He appeared in Old Yeller, Savage Sam, The Great Locomotive Chase, and Westward Ho, the Wagons! He is best known for the role of Mike Fink in the Davy Crockett series.

Richard Beymer as Rab Silsbee. He is best known for playing Tony in West Side Story, Peter in The Diary of Anne Frank and Ben Horne on the television series Twin Peaks. Whit Bissell as Josiah Quincy. His extensive film and television credits include I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Peter Gunn, The Rifleman, Bachelor Father, The Virginian, The Caine Mutiny, The Manchurian Candidate, The Outer Limits, Hogan’s Heroes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the classic episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” of Star Trek, The Magnificent Seven, and The Time Machine.

Luana Patten returns as Priscilla Lapham and Sebastian Cabot returns as Jonathan Lyte

Legacy: Walt Disney intended to build Liberty Street in Disneyland as an annex to Main Street USA. However, the project never materialized. After Walt’s death, the concept was revived and turned into the much more expansive Liberty Square in Walt Disney World. It has a restaurant called The Liberty Tree Tavern.

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My take: I saw this film back in middle school. It’s pretty solid, much in the same vein as Davy Crockett in that it’s fairly black and white.

Next Week: Swiss Family Robinson