Tom Sawyer
Tom Sawyer (1973) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDon Taylor
Written byMark Twain (novel)
Robert B. Sherman
Richard M. Sherman
Produced byArthur P. Jacobs
Frank Capra Jr.
StarringJohnny Whitaker
Celeste Holm
Warren Oates
Jeff East
Jodie Foster
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 a 1973 American musical film adaptation of Mark Twain's 1876 boyhood adventure story The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Directed by Don Taylor, the film stars Johnny Whitaker as the title character, Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher, Jeff East as Huckleberry Finn, and Ho–Chunk tribesman Kunu Hank portrayed Injun Joe.

The film was produced by Reader's Digest in collaboration with Arthur P. Jacobs who was best known for producing the Planet of the Apes films. The film's screenplay and songs were written by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, who would go on to provide award–winning music for the film's 1974 sequel Huckleberry Finn.

At the 46th Academy Awards, the film received three nominations – Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design, but failed to win any.


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Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn play hooky from school and plan to revive a dead cat with the spirit of a man named Hoss Williams who is on his death bed. Sawyer and Finn talk with Muff Potter, the town drunk, but are interrupted when Injun Joe says that Doc Robinson wants to see them. Muff and Joe meet Robinson and he informs them that they have a job to dig up the grave of Williams. Joe is angry that Robinson did not fix his leg correctly. Meanwhile, Tom continues to skip school and comes up with fantastic stories about why he is not home for dinner, where he tricks the children of the town to do his punishment chores for him.

After Williams dies, Tom and Huck go to the cemetery and find out that Muff and Joe are digging up William's grave on the orders of Robinson. Joe continues to be angry at Robinson and demands more money for the job. When Robinson refuses, Injun Joe picks up a shovel, accidentally knocking Muff out. He hits Doc Robinson into the grave with the shovel, then grabs Muff's knife and jumps in after Robinson and kills him. Tom and Huck witness all this and then flee, making a pact never to tell anyone what they saw.

Joe frames Muff for the murder and Muff goes to jail. Meanwhile, Becky Thatcher moves to town which sends Sawyer into a romantic daze. At the trial for Muff, Tom is unable to contain himself as Joe is called to the stand and lies about the incident, continuing to frame Muff for the murder. As Tom is called to the stand, he relates what happened, not mentioning that Huck was with him. Suddenly, Injun Joe throws a knife at Tom, narrowly missing Tom's head and jumps out the window of the courthouse, fleeing.

After the trial, Tom and Becky get "engaged", but that quickly ends when Tom mentions he is also engaged to Amy Lawrence. After sulking, Tom is attacked by Huck for "breaking the pact" and they both decide to run away. While paddling down the Mississippi, their raft is capsized by a passing riverboat and they end up on an island, where they enjoy freedom and muse over what happened to Injun Joe. While on the island, they witness some people "dragging the river", a process where a cannon is fired to bring up any bodies from the bottom of the river.

Tom and Huck decide to go home and find out that there is a funeral being held for them. The funeral service breaks up when Judge Thatcher sees them in the back of the church. The Widow Douglas takes Huck under her wing. Later, at an Independence Day celebration, Tom and Becky go into McDougal's Cave for a drink of water from the underground spring and run into Injun Joe. Joe chases them through the cave, intent on killing Tom. However, Judge Thatcher, Muff, and Huck catch up to Joe and Muff tosses a torch at Joe, who falls to his death. Later, Huck disappears, worrying the Widow Douglas and Tom finds him at the old fishing place where they hang out. Tom berates Huck for worrying the Widow, and Muff decides to leave town.


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 provided the cave settings.

Another similar film[which?] was released on television that same year which was shot at Upper Canada Village, in Ontario.

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).[2]


  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


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973". Variety. 9 January 1974, pg 19.
  2. ^ Awards for Tom Sawyer (1973)