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Sunday, October 24, 2010

TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS (1951)

The same year that Brian Desmond Hurst made his near-definitive version of Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL (aka SCROOGE - the one with the great Alistair Sim), he produced (with Gordon Parry helming) this lesser, but efficient adaptation of Thomas Hughes’ oft-filmed prep school classic. Lots of supporting players show up in both productions, but this film also claims the last of three prestigious juvenile leading roles in the brief, happy acting career of John Howard Davies. (After David Lean’s OLIVER TWIST/’48 and the superb if little known D. H. Lawrence adaptation THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER/’49.) Noel Langley’s script only touches on the book’s main focus, the school reform issues of Rugby’s progressive headmaster Dr. Arnold, but Robert Newton’s burning presence makes the most of his limited screen time. Instead, we concentrate almost exclusively on junior-class friendships & the sadistic bullying by upper-classmen. Much of it is still harrowing stuff, climaxing in a big flinchingly violent second-act fight between Brown (along with his pal, East) & their chief tormentor, Flashman. The blind eye habitually turned toward this sort of ‘boys-will-be-boys’ hazing is hardly a thing of the past but as current as FaceBook. (See also: TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL DAYS/'40)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: You could try this one out on a Harry Potter fiend. They might be a bit shocked to see so many of their beloved Hogwarts’ traditions sourced straight out of Hughes’ muckraking book.

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