Tom Sawyer
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDon Taylor
Screenplay byRobert B. Sherman
Richard M. Sherman
Based onThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer
1876 novel
by Mark Twain
Produced byArthur P. Jacobs
Frank Capra Jr.
StarringJohnny Whitaker
Celeste Holm
Jeff East
Warren Oates
CinematographyFrank Stanley
Edited byMarion Rothman
Music bySongs:
Richard M. Sherman
Robert B. Sherman
John Williams
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • March 15, 1973 (1973-03-15)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$6,000,000 (rentals)[1]

Tom Sawyer is the 1973 American musical film adaptation of the Mark Twain novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and was directed by Don Taylor. The film was produced by Reader's Digest in collaboration with Arthur P. Jacobs, and its screenplay and songs were written by both Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman.

During the 46th Academy Awards, the film received three nominations for Best Original Song Score, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design, but failed to win any.


Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, seeking adventure and superstition, skip school to attempt resurrecting a dead cat through an incantation they believe will be empowered by the imminent death of a man named Hoss Williams. During their escapade, they encounter Muff Potter, the town drunk. Their discussion is interrupted by Injun Joe, who informs them that Doc Robinson seeks their assistance to exhume Williams' body. Concurrently, Tom consistently evades school, weaving elaborate tales to excuse his absences at dinner. When Aunt Polly, his guardian, seeks to discipline him for his truancy, Tom cunningly persuades other children to undertake his punitive chores, demonstrating his mischievous and manipulative nature.

Following Williams' death, Tom and Huck visit the cemetery, only to discover Muff Potter and Injun Joe exhuming Williams' grave under Doc Robinson's orders. An altercation ensues when Joe demands additional payment, and in the ensuing chaos, Robinson inadvertently incapacitates Muff with a shovel. In a violent response, Joe strikes Robinson, knocking him into the grave, then fatally stabs him with Muff's knife. Horrified, Tom and Huck witness the entire event and flee the scene, binding themselves with a pact of silence over the gruesome murder they observed.

In the aftermath of the murder, Injun Joe deceitfully accuses Muff Potter of the crime, resulting in Muff's imprisonment. Concurrently, Tom Sawyer becomes infatuated with the newly arrived Becky Thatcher. During Muff's trial, as Injun Joe testifies with false claims, Tom, unable to bear the injustice, courageously reveals the true series of events on the stand, carefully omitting Huck's presence. In a dramatic turn, Injun Joe retaliates by hurling a knife at Tom, narrowly missing him, and then makes a daring escape through the courthouse window.

Post-trial, Tom and Becky's brief "engagement" dissolves when Becky learns of Tom's prior commitment to Amy Lawrence. Distraught, Tom finds himself at odds with Huck for violating their pact of secrecy. The boys, seeking escape and adventure, decide to run away together, journeying down the Mississippi River. Their expedition takes a perilous turn when a riverboat capsizes their raft, stranding them on an island. As they revel in their newfound freedom, they speculate about Injun Joe's fate. During their island sojourn, they observe a group conducting a river dragging, a technique involving cannon fire aimed to recover bodies submerged in the river.

Tom and Huck, yearning for home, return only to discover a funeral in progress, presumed dead by the townsfolk. Their sudden appearance joyously interrupts the service, leading to a warm reception. Subsequently, the Widow Douglas adopts Huck, endeavoring to civilize him. During a subsequent Independence Day celebration, Tom and Becky's exploration of McDougal's Cave turns perilous when they encounter Injun Joe. A harrowing chase ensues, culminating in a dramatic confrontation with Judge Thatcher, Muff, and Huck. In the chaos, Muff throws a torch at Injun Joe, causing him to fall to his demise.

Some time after the tumultuous events, Huck vanishes, causing concern for the Widow Douglas. Tom, upon locating him at their favored fishing spot, chides Huck for his thoughtlessness. As Huck ponders his future, possibly setting the stage for his own adventures in "Huckleberry Finn," Tom returns to find Muff Potter preparing to leave town, hinting at a possible future reunion. Concurrently, Judge Thatcher arranges a two-week trip to St. Louis for Tom and Becky, offering a reprieve from recent events. Before departing, Tom mends relationships with his family and commits to personal improvement.


Jodie Foster and Johnny Whitaker had starred together in Napoleon and Samantha the previous year.


The film was shot in Arrow Rock and Lupus, Missouri. Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri with cave sets.

As a Mormon, Whitaker was prohibited from using tobacco. In the scene in which Tom and Huck carve a pipe and smoke it together, cabbage leaves were substituted in place of the tobacco, at Whitaker's insistence.[2]

Another similar film, also titled "Tom Sawyer," was released on television that same year. It was shot at Upper Canada Village in Ontario, but the cave scenes were filmed at Howe Caverns in Howes Cave, New York. Originally broadcast on CBS on March 23, 1973, it starred Josh Albee as Tom and Jeff Tyler as Huck. Los Angeles Times critic Don Page called it a "pleasant treatment" of the novel, although he found Albee "low-key" and Tyler "uncharismatic." "The best performances come from the veterans," Page noted, "especially Buddy Ebsen as the pitiful but lovable town sot, Muff Potter. Jane Wyatt as forgiving Aunt Polly, Vic Morrow as the sinister Injun Joe, and John McGiver as Judge Thatcher are excellent. ... Jane Holloway's script is bright enough, but the youngsters fail to ignite the spark."[3] The presentation was sponsored by Dr. Pepper[4] and featured a dog named Pepper accompanying Tom and Huck on their adventures.[5]

The paddle–wheeled boat used in the theatrical musical film was the Julia Belle Swain, currently (as of September 24, 2013) moored at Riverside Park in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Awards and nominations

At the 31st Golden Globe Awards, the Sherman Brothers, along with John Williams, received a nomination for Best Original Score. The trio would later be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation. Tom Sawyer also received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction–Set Decoration (Philip M. Jefferies, Robert De Vestel) and Best Costume Design (Donfeld).[6]


  1. River Song (The Theme from “Tom Sawyer”) Charley Pride, Chorus & Orchestra
  2. Tom Sawyer – Aunt Polly, Mary, Sidney
  3. Gratifaction – Boys
  4. How Come? – Tom
  5. If'n I Was God – Tom
  6. A Man's Gotta Be (What He's Born to Be) Tom, Huckleberry and Muff
  7. Hannibal, Mo(Zouree) – Cast
  8. Freebootin' – Tom, Huckleberry
  9. Aunt Polly's Soliloquy – Aunt Polly