A young man in eighteenth-century Boston becomes involved in the revolutionary events of his time and fights the good fight against authoritarian rule. [ Johnny Tremain credits: Dir: Robert Stevenson/ Hal Stalmaster, Luana Patten, Jeff York/ 80 min/ American Revolution, Anti-Taxation, Right to Secede]
This historical fiction mixed with fact gives us an intimate view of the early events of the American Revolution through the youthful eyes of Johnny Tremain, apprentice silversmith.
In the course of the film, Tremain helps to print and deliver a revolutionary newspaper; he brings secret messages to the “Sons of Liberty”; he participates in the “Boston Tea Party”; he aids in Paul Revere’s ride; and he fights in the battle triggered by the “shot heard round the world,” as well as in the subsequent rebel hit-and-run attacks on the redcoats. In short, through his experience we learn Chapter One of the American Revolution.
The overall effect of the film is to support the concept of revolution against tyranny and to remind the viewer of the price that was paid to establish freedom in this country. It also underscores an important point about the Revolution—that it was made possible by a widespread appreciation for liberty. There is no substitute for that. Another plus for the film is that it communicates a spirit of personal independence and responsibility on the part of Tremain. However, one slight flaw is the explanation it gives for the Revolution: “… so that the few cannot seize power over the thousands.” While true, its isn’t really complete. At least by the end of the Revolution, the Founders were also concerned about the converse danger, that the thousands not seize power over the few.
A typical handiwork of Disney during the 1950s, Johnny Tremain is a quality production of an upbeat wholesome story, made all the more so by the choice for the lead—Hal Stahlmaster, a characteristically bright-eyed, toothy-smiled Disney type. Despite depictions of military conflicts, the film never loses the spirit of a happy adventure. Danger never quite culminates in irreversible disaster for the main characters, and there’s even a song thrown in. It’s a light, but inspirational film, aimed at a younger audience. As the dedication says at the beginning, “To the youth of the world … in whose spirit and courage rests the hope of eventual freedom for all mankind.”