The 1938 version of Adventures of Tom Sawyer appears to be producer David O. Selznick's dry run for Gone with the Wind, what with its similarities in period, costumes, color scheme and production design (both films shared the services of the great Hollywood art director William Cameron Menzies). Selected from hundreds of applicants (a precursor to Selznick's upcoming search for Wind's Scarlet O'Hara), Tommy Kelly is visually perfect as Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer though his acting varies from scene to scene. Better cast is Jackie Moran as the laconic, pipe-smoking Huck Finn (Moran would show up in Wind as Dr. Meade's son). Never forcing its pace, the film manages to include most of Twain's classic sequences, including the fence-whitewashing episode, Tom's rescue of Becky Thatcher (Anne Gillis) from the wrath of their schoolmaster (Olin Howlin), Tom and Huck's "death and resurrection" after the boys briefly skipped town for an idyll on a remote island, the murder trial of town drunk Muff Potter (Walter Brennan) and ultimately unmasking of the vicious Injun Joe (Victor Jory) as the real killer, and of course the chilling climax in the cave, wherein Tom protects Becky from the fugitive Injun Joe. Originally released at 93 minutes, Adventures of Tom Sawyer was trimmed to 77 minutes for a 1959 reissue; it has since been restored to its full length on videotape. In 1960, Tom Sawyer was syndicated to television by Selznick, with accompanying commentary by the film's now-grown-up "Becky Thatcher", Anne Gillis.
by Hal Erickson synopsis