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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS (1940)

Pinch-penny version of the oft-filmed fictionalized memoir (rushed out by RKO to pick up any GOODBYE, MR CHIPS/'39 backwash) is remarkably clear-eyed in detailing the petty (and not so petty) sadism of British "public" schools, as well as its harrowing ostracism, despair & loneliness. The book's real concern, Thomas Arnold’s 19th century school reforms, are alluded to, but neither dramatized nor properly integrated into the dorm-dungeon life which the reliable director Robert Stevenson exposes. Though the ultimate effect is oddly ambiguous, even nostalgic. A better-than-expected cast mixes real Brits, like Cedric Hardwicke & Freddie Bartholomew, with Yankee ringers who come off rather well. (Pronounced: rah-tha.) Especially DEAD END kid Billy Halop, who makes a convincingly threatening top boy. (See also: TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS/'51)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Is film scorer Anthony Collins intentionally lifting motifs from Verdi’s FALSTAFF?

READ ALL ABOUT IT: The famous series of FLASHMAN novels by George MacDonald Fraser are all based on, or rather inspired from, the ignoble character played in this version by Halop. But be warned, FLASHMAN novels are addictive. (see ROYAL FLASH)

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