Certainly the best adaptation of the Mark Twain classic, this large-scale effort from Warners turned into an accidental trial-run for next year’s ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD/’38 after James Cagney ‘ankled’ that mega-production, leaving this film's fast-rising Errol Flynn to take over. ROBIN HOOD, one of the great Hollywood classics, and one of the first to profit from 3-strip TechniColor, casts a long shadow over this lesser effort, but there’s plenty to enjoy here as well. Director William Keighley tended to the lighter side of things at Warners, it’s why Michael Curtiz took over from him in the middle of the ROBIN HOOD shoot. But that light tone is just right for bringing out the Dickensian narrative drive in Laird Doyle’s script. Twain was more ironic/philosophical. The film gets a big kick out of having real identical twins as beggar boy (Billy) & Prince (& Bobby Mauch). (Playing royalty, Bobby gets the big tear-jerking emotional scenes, like his touching breakdown in front of new pal Flynn on learning his father, the King, has died.) But with their lack of actorly manner, MidWest accents and infectious giggles, both boys are a delight. Naturally, this being Warners, the supporting players are a tasty lot, with Montagu Love a bluntly fascinating King Henry VIII. But once Flynn shows up (and that’s not until the sixth reel) as the boy’s protector (who’d believe the young lad Prince in such dirty rags?), he easily takes over the film with his brash confidence. Good yeasty fun, all the way thru.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Never one to miss a publicity angle, the film goes all out for the pomp, show & suspense of a Kingly Coronation for its ride-to-the-rescue finale. What if the beggar boy is crowned King? After all, the real coronation of King George VI was due May 12, 1937 and the film officially opened on the 8th. Now that’s showmanship!
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Or rather, Hear All About It: The DVD edition looks fine, but the soundtrack, at least the music, is murky. No small thing since it’s one of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s strongest scores. Make up for the loss by listening to his violin concerto where the third movement uses themes out of the movie. Try Gil Shaham w/ Andre Previn on DG. (In the film, listen up when a Lord rides off in the middle of Edward’s coronation to find the Great Seal of England. It’s the intro to the concerto’s coda. And with hardly an alteration.)