SENTIMENTAL TOMMY (John S. Robertson, 1921, UK, 80m, BW)
Directed by John S. Robertson
Produced by Famous Players-Lasky
Written by Josephine Lovett (scenario)
Based on Sentimental Tommy
by James M. Barrie
Starring Gareth Hughes
Cinematography Roy Overbaugh
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
May 29, 1921
75+ minutes at 8 reels (7,575 ft)
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles)
As described in a film publication, Grizel (McAvoy) is the daughter of the Painted Lady (Taliaferro), who believes that her lover will one day return. Grizel is ostracized by the other children of the town. Tommy Sandys (Hughes) and his sister Elspeth (Frost) come to the town. Tommy is friendly, but Elspeth keeps her distance. When the Painted Lady dies, Dr. Gemmell (Greene) makes Grizel his housekeeper.
Time passes and after the doctor dies, Grizel, who is now twenty-one years old, loves Tommy, who is an author in London. Tommy visits the town but cannot decide whether he loves Grizel. Grizel knows that Tommy does not love her, and after he returns to London her unhappiness leads to insanity. Tommy returns and marries Grizel, although he believes that she will hate him when she gets better. After two years under Tommy's care, she regains her sanity. After Tommy lets her know that he cared for her out of his love for her; not for pity, Grizel is happy.
A screen version of "Sentimental Tommy" and Tommy and Grizel has been made and Barrie has not been burlesqued! He has even been treated reverently, as if what he wrote was worth translating into moving pictures without embellishment by some superior movie-mind! Let this be exclaimed at the outset for the reassurance of those who saw "The Admirable Crichton" slaughtered to make a movie holiday. Those who recognize the eloquent distinction between the terms "motion picture" and "movie" will understand when it is written that "Sentimental Tommy" is a motion picture, not a movie. It does not include all of the story that Barrie wrote, it skips large portions and sketches others lightly, and it hasn't the courage to go to the end which Barrie faced so resolutely, if reluctantly; but it brings to the screen Tommy and Grizel and Elspeth, the Painted Lady, Dr. McQueen and the others as Barrie himself created them and adds nothing to make the film a "super" or "extra special" production. So it is mentioned, with some hope, that the picture is at the Criterion.
John S. Robertson directed "Sentimental Tommy." It was he who directed "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," which, except for its distortion of Stevenson's narrative, for which Mr. Robertson was probably not responsible, was one of the sterling works of last year. This time the scenarist, Josephine Lovett, has caught the spirit of her original, and followed its text, too, and Mr. Robertson's ability and sincerity have not been handicapped. In large part he has recreated Thrums and its people and made them live. Although a great deal of credit must go to the players, architects, scenic designers and the like, it must have required some one to direct all these, to advise, perhaps to order, them to put into the film the best that they had to give, and Mr. Robertson seems to have met all the demands of his job. If he has been literal, rather than imaginative, in interpreting Barrie, at least he has been faithful, and faithfulness is more to be desired in directors than rampant muddle-headedness—and often it must be a choice between the two. So let Mr. Robertson's worth be recognized. His work has been exceptionally well done.
But what players he had to work with! It is doubtful if a more appropriate cast for "Sentimental Tommy" could have been selected. Gareth Hughes is no other than Thomas Sandys himself, and May McAvoy is Grizel incarnate. Would you know just how Tommy wagged his head? See Gareth Hughes at the Criterion. Would you know just how Grizel rocked her arms? See May McAvoy on the screen. His performance was expected of Mr. Hughes, so the most that can be said of him is that be comes up to every expectation. If he does not like this, it is his own fault. He has done so well before that the first announcement that he was to be Tommy awoke in those who feared the worst the hope that the best might be. But Miss McAvoy is a happy surprise. She has done well before, but never anything like her Grizel. She makes the difficult rôle of the Painted Lady's daughter intelligible and unforgettable. And the Painted Lady herself, in the person of Mabel Tallaferro, is one of the clear and enduring characters of the photoplay, as she is of the book. Miss Tallaferro's scenes are relatively few and brief, but her finished acting gives every one of them its full value. George Fawcett, as Dr. McQueen, is excellent, of course, and Leila Frost's Elspeth is satisfactory. So is Malcolm Bradley's Domine Cathro, and the others in the cast suit themselves to their rôles.
The photography of the film is of a high order, and it also has cinematographic merit, though a good many subtitles have been used, which, however, do not do violence to the pictures and therefore are not offensive. Tommy has long since graduated from his sexless garments when the story begins, and Grizel's mind has just been restored when it ends, so it may be seen that the photoplay attempts to tell only the middle part of Tommy's life, but this has been a choice of wisdom, because obviously the whole story could not have been put into a film of practical length.
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