Much can be said for the treatment in this edition of the Thomas Hughes yarn. While remaining faithful to the spirit of the original, it contrives to vitalize the action and humanize the characters. Thus young Tom’s confused terror among the milling cruelties of the young hellions on his first time away from home is understandable and compelling. The terrible seriousness of his scrapes, his fights and youthful crises are immediate and vivid.
Although Tom Brown is not a lavish production, it is sympathetically and skillfully made, with many touching moments and an excellent cast. It alters the emphasis somewhat from the development of the boy to the character of the headmaster, Arnold. But that should bother only a few purists. It probably results in a better picture, since Cedric Hardwicke, who plays the wise and kindly teacher, is much better qualified to carry a story than is any Hollywood prodigy.
Hardwicke’s performance is one of the best he has ever given on the screen. While maintaining the schoolmaster’s surface severity, he clearly indicates the underlying sympathy, tolerance, quiet humor and steadfast courage. In the title part, Jimmy Lydon is believable and moving in the early portions, but too young for the final moments. Freddie Bartholomew is sincere and convincing as Tom’s sidekick, while Josephine Hutchinson’s lustrous quality makes the role of the headmaster’s wife seem too brief. Billy Halop is a properly sadistic bully.