tom thumb (1958)

“He’s not for sale; he’s my son!”

Synopsis:
A poor woodcutter (Bernard Miles) and his wife (Jessie Matthews) wish for a son of any size, and are delighted when the Forest Queen (June Thorburn) blesses them with Tom Thumb (Russ Tamblyn). When a pair of thieves (Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers) convince Tom to help them steal a bag of gold, his parents are falsely accused of the theft, and Tom enlists the help of his friend Woody (Alan Young) to capture the real culprits.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Russ Tamblyn had his best role” in this “classic M-G-M production of the Grimm fairytale, directed by George Pal”. He notes that the “film is colorful, isn’t at all schmaltzy, and has imaginatively designed sets and a spectacular musical number in which the remarkably talented Tamblyn does a great dance with Pal’s puppets”. However, he concedes that “if you’re an adult, you may wish you were a kid again so you could enjoy it as you once did”. I’m largely in agreement with Peary, though not quite as enthusiastic. It’s fun to see Pal’s classic “Puppetooning” on screen, and Tamblyn’s athletic dancing is consistently superb, but his character is poorly conceived; indeed, it’s downright creepy seeing the 24-year-old Tamblyn placed into a cradle by his adoring adoptive parents — and one never quite understands exactly how old he’s meant to be (nor, for that matter, where he came from before magically appearing on their doorstep).

Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers are appropriately buffoonish as the “evil twosome who want to use Tom for their own ends”, but their quibbling schtick eventually wears out its welcome; and while Miles and Matthews make a sweet elderly couple, they aren’t given much screentime after the nicely conceived opening sequences. Meanwhile, the requisite romantic subplot — between lovely Thorburn and Young (who will be forever etched in my mind’s eye alongside Mr. Ed) — is, perhaps predictably, rather insipid. With all that said, there’s enough life and color to this production that ff parents will surely feel fine putting it in front of their kids. Pinocchio it ain’t — but then few films are.

Note: If you think you vaguely recognize Matthews from somewhere, it may be from her starring role 20+ years earlier in the enormously successful British musical Evergreen (1934).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Russ Tamblyn’s athletic dancing
  • Fine special effects

Must See?
No, though those interested in Pal’s Puppetooning will certainly want to check it out.

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One Response to “tom thumb (1958)”

  1. Not a must – although young ffs may benefit from a watch, with their ff friends or parents.

    First viewing.

    It surprises me that this one slipped by me as a kid – but it seems it did, since the whole thing appeared new to me. (The first impression I had while watching is that it’s likely Paul Reubens saw this as a kid since it seems to have influenced his Pee-wee’s Playhouse in significant ways.)

    Overall, it’s an innocuous film. Unlike Peary, I do think it has a considerable schmaltz factor but it does seem to get better as it goes. The music is not all that catchy (although ‘Are You a Dream?’ is a pleasant love song) – but Tamblyn’s first big, wonderfully vivid number – with the toys – contains memorable excitement due to the actor’s very nimble, athletic moves. He seems to be having quite a bit of fun in this long sequence. (I’m not particularly creeped-out about how old he is supposed to be – and, to me, it seems he was specifically ‘created’ by the Forest Queen.)

    Thomas probably does the best acting in the film since he’s so expressive. Sellers is admittedly subdued but it’s interesting seeing him work within the simple demands of his role. I agree that Miles and Matthews aren’t given enough screen time but I very much like the device used that prevents them from ever going to bed angry with each other (I won’t spoil it ’cause it’s too cute). The love story angle (Thorburn & Young) is a little insipid but nothing worrisome – and through them we get a pleasant lesson on the proper way to kiss. ;)

    Not a bad film – but a bit low on ‘classic’ status.

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