Tom Brown’s Schooldays A faithful rendition of the Thomas Hughes book of life at the famed Rugby School for Boys in 1834, when Dr. Thomas Arnold (Robert Newton), headmaster, was trying to alleviate the brutality of the “hazing system”, which was supposed to make men of the young boys, but which actually was a mask for passionate, unregenerate cruelty. The primary story has Tom Brown (John Howard Davies) ragged continually by one particularly brutal upper-class-man, Flashman (John Forrest). Tom’s bravery and school-spirited silence gains him Arnold’s admiration.
Tom Brown’s Schooldays John Howard Davies – probably most famous for his portrayal of orphan “Oliver Twist” in David Lean’s classic – is a little too weedy, for me, as the title character in this adaptation of Thomas Hughes’ story about a young boy sent to the prestigious Rugby School in the 1830’s where he encounters bullies; brutality and ultimately kindness. Robert Newton turns in a great performance as “Dr. Arnold” who believes that the somewhat cruel educational practices are of the past, and so he and “Tom Brown” try to improve things. This film is not so faithful to the book; but uses the two lead performances, as well as a convincing effort from John Forrest as his nemesis “Flashman”, to convey much of it’s sentiment. I probably preferred the 1940 version, but there’s not much in it.
Robert Newton takes on Sir Cedric Hardwicke
To my surprise, this version is every bit as gripping and fascinating as the 1940 RKO version. Some leading critics in fact actually prefer this movie. You can count the New York Times for one. True, Gordon Parry’s direction rarely rises above a very competent level, but Noel Langley’s screenplay is, to say the least, brilliant. He has expanded the story slightly to make the Flashman incidents more believable to those unaccustomed to the ways of the British Public School system in the 1850s — and indeed right up to the 1950’s! What’s more, the movie is attractively acted, particularly by young John Howard Davies as Tom Brown and charismatic Robert Newton, perfectly cast as Doctor Thomas Arnold. (In fact, Newton told me that he regarded this as by far his best performance. I agree!). What’s more, the movie has not only been extremely well produced on a really top budget, but features a fine music score by Richard Addinsell.