Johnny Tremaine (1957) 



Director:  Robert Stevenson

Starring:  Hal Stalmaster (Jonathan Lyte ("Johnny") Tremain), Luana Patten (Priscilla 'Cilla' Lapham), Jeff York (James Otis), Sebastian Cabot (Jonathan Lyte), Rusty Lane (Samuel Adams), Richard Beymer (Rab Silsbee), Whit Bissell (Josiah Quincy), Walter Sande (Paul Revere), Walter Coy (Dr. Joseph Warren). Ralph Clanton (Gen. Gage).



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"To the youth of the world in whose spirit and courage rests the hope of eventual freedom for all mankind."

Boston.  July 1773.  A carriage stops at the shop of Ephm. Lapham Silversmith.  A young black boy announces the arrival of Mr. Jonathan Lyte.  Mr. Lapham greets him.  Johnny Tremain works in the shop as well.  Lyte brings in a silver piece from a set that was damaged and wants it copied and replaced.  And he wants it finished by Monday.  Mr. Lyte wonders if he can finish it by then, but Johnny steps in and says they can do it.  Lyte says he will be back Monday morning early.  He leaves the shop.

Johnny tells Mr. Lapham that he thinks he can copy the piece, but his employer doubts him.  Johnny tries to make the handle for the teapot but it is a horrible failure.  Mr. Lapham tells him that Lyte will have to go to another silversmith. Johnny tells Cilla that he will go to Paul Revere to find out what's wrong.  Cilla sees a drawing with the initials J.L.T. on it.  She asks what it means.  Johnny promises Cilla to secrecy and then tells her it means Jonathan Lyte Tremain.  His mother never would tell him just how he was related to the Lyte family.  Cilla wants to know if Johnny is trying to trick her.  He pulls out a silver cup beautifully designed.  He says his mother told him that he could show it to Mr. Lyte but only if God himself has forsaken him.  He says he wants to make it by himself anyway. 

Johnny goes to find Mr. Revere.  He is told he is over at the newspaper office.  Johnny walks over there and is told by a young fellow named Rab that he will have to wait awhile.  So Johnny reads some of the fresh copy hot off the press.  Rab tells Johnny that the English Ministry collected a tax of English tea sold to the colonials and then added it to the price.  When they buy English tea, they are paying a tax on which they themselves have not voted.  The adds he is printing call for a boycott of English Tea.  It is put out by the Sons of Liberty. 

Rab's Uncle Nat, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and Dr. Joseph Warren come downstairs.  Adams is excited that the posters are ready to be spread by the Sons of Liberty.  Revere tells Johnny how to fix the teapot handle.  Into the night Johnny works on the handle.  Grandfather stops him for Vespers.  He has to read a passage from the Bible for the family. 

Early Sunday morning Grandpa goes to church as usual ahead of the family's arrival there.  Johnny, Cilla and Cilla's mother use the time to finish the tea pot handle even though they are breaking the Sabbath.  The Constable is coming.  In their hurry to put everything up the hot silver falls out from the mold and Johnny accidentally places his right palm down on it.  He suffers a terrible burn. 

Johnny sees Rab with a rifle.  Rab tells him that the Sons of Liberty are watching the ship that contains the English tea.  Admiral Montagu of His Majesty's Navy comes by and speaks with Rab for a moment.  Rab tells Johnny that Governor Hutchinson won't let the Admiral land his marines or else the whole of Boston will be up in arms against them.  Johnny tells Rab that he and his group are a bunch of troublemakers.

Johnny's aunt tells him to unwrap his hand.  He does so and the palm looks awful.  Johnny can't even move his fingers.  They have all grown together.  Johnny won't be able to be a silversmith.  He decides to leave the house and the shop.  Cilla tells him to stay until at least he finds another job, but Johnny refuses.  Cilla calls him a stubborn fool. 

Johnny can't find work because of his hand.  So he turns to Mr. Lyte.  At first the man thinks it's just another trick to get money from him, but Johnny shows him the silver cup his mother gave him.  Lyte tells Johnny to come to the house after supper. 

Johhny shows up and in invited in.  Mr. Lyte introduces Johnny to Mr. Hooper.  Mr. Lyte takes the silver cup from Johnny and places it with three others that are exactly the same.  Then he turns to Mr. Hooper the constable and tells him that he will remember that he reported earlier that someone had broken a window and grabbed the cup.  Johnny is taken into custody as a thief.

The Sons of Liberty come to Johnny's rescue.  They bring a lawyer with them, Mr. Josiah Quincy.  He will take Johnny's case at no cost.

In court Mr. Quincy notes that there was a sister and four brothers in the Lyte family.  And yet he had only four cups.  Mr. Lyte demands the death penalty for the "young ruffian".  The defense lawyer then calls Priscilla Lapham to the stand.  She supports Johnny's story in full.  The judge dismisses the case against Johnny and Mr.. Lyte is shocked. 

Rab talks with Johnny and then brings out a horse named Goblin who is very skittish.  He wants to know if Johnny can ride him.  Johnny gets on the horse and does ride him, but when Rab waves a white flag in Goblin's direction the horse just bucks Johnny off.  Johnny doesn't give up easily.  He keeps trying the test until Goblin trusts that the white flag is not a danger to him.  Johnny passes the test. 

Rab tells his Uncle Nat that they have found their new horse boy.  Uncle Nat is pleased.  Now Rab has to fold newspapers.  Rab tells Johnny that the Boston Observer has 532 subscribers, the biggest newspaper in the whole province.    He tells Rab that the Observer is the voice of the Sons of Liberty.  Part of Johnny's job will be to carry messages for the members.  Johnny already knows some of the members of the Committee.  Rob now tells him some of the others including Reverend Samuel Cooper and his brother William, Martin Brimmer, Mr. Molineaux, Moses Gill, Newman Greenough, Tom Boylston, Oliver Wendell, Joseph Ayres , etc. 

There's a tea ship at Griffin's Wharf.  Tomorrow it well be more than twenty days in the harbor and the law says that after twenty days, if the cargo has not been unloaded, it must be seized by the governor and sold at auction. 

Samuel Adams says that they are going to make one last appeal to the governor.  They will receive the governor's answer at the Old South church.  He wants Johnny there at the meeting and if Johnny hears him say that this meeting can do nothing more to save the country, he wants Johnny to go outside and blow on a whistle as hard as he can.  This will alert Rab who will alert the others.

Mr. Quincy speaks in the church, while Johnny watches and listens to him.  Outside Rab and other men are dressed as Indians.  A messenger arrives.  Samuel Adams says the fateful words and Johnny runs outside and blows the whistle.  The "Indians" head for the ship.  They dress Johnny as an Indian on the way to the ship.  Mr. Lyte thinks he has won a huge victory by stiffening the resolve of Governor Hutchinson against the Sons of Liberty.  But now he sees the Sons of Liberty gathering by the ship.  They take the keys to the hold from the capital.  They are going to start throwing the tea overboard.  Dr. Warren sees Johnny standing by the sideline.  He goes over to him and tells him that he can use surgery and free Johnny's fingers so he can work as others do.  The men bring up the huge boxes out of the hold, open them, slice open each large bag of tea and throw the contents into the harbor.   Lyte complains to the Admiral that the loss will be as much as 18,000 English pounds.  After all the tea is dumped, the men clean up the mess they made on the ship. 

As the Sons of Liberty walk through the streets of town, Johnny grabs Priscilla and marches with her in tow. 

Spring 1775.  General Gage has a meeting with Dr. Warren.  The doctor reads to him an address to the King of England by Lord Chatham supporting the goals of the British subjects in colonial America.  Gen. Gage says he has to enforce a blockade on the port of Boston until the tea is all paid for.  He says that the militias training on every village green must be disbanded.  And all munitions stores must be surrendered.  Dr. Warren tells Gen. Gage that he does not have the power to enforce any of this on the colonials.  He says:  "Free men will never consent to give up the means of defending their liberties."

Mr. Lyte invites Johnny over to his place.  He says he is going back to England.  Lyte starts damning the Sons of Liberty and Johnny answers back in their defense.  Lyte gets mad at Johnny and tells him that he was going to take him along to England with him and make a gentleman out of Johnny.  Johnny just tells him he'll never leave Boston.  He gives Lyte his silver cup and leaves. 

Rab gathers a lot of young Bostonians together.  He wants them to watch Gen. Gage and his troops and report everything they do and say.  Rab says he himself will go to his cousin Captain Parker in Lexington and join his Minutemen when the redcoats make a move. 

Johnny talks with a British military officer and through cleaver questioning learns that the man is sailing on a troop transport to Portsmouth, New Hampshire tomorrow.  Johnny runs to tell the Sons of Liberty.  Revere says he will be in Portsmouth way before the British and will see to it that they seize the munitions stores there at Fort William and Mary.  His mission is a success yielding 97 kegs of powder and 110 stands of small arms.  The British are mad about this event and they make plans to take the munitions back from the colonials. 

Cilla works as a waitress at a bar.  She is able to read the orders to a British officer when the officer throws his coat to her and tells her to hang it up.  She hurries over to the newspaper offices only to learn that Johnny already has a copy of the orders.  It means that the redcoats will soon be on the move.

Despite being sick, Mr. Otis, who helped found the Sons of Liberty, comes to the Committee meeting. He knows a fight is coming, but he says they must know what they are fighting for.  He says they fight for freedom from tyranny for all men, not just the colonials 

Johnny has his hand back thanks to Dr. Warren.  Now he can keep records for the good doctor.  Warren and Revere plot out the communications needed to spread the news of the movement of the redcoats.  Billy Dawes has volunteered to be a rider.  The message will first be seen from the spire of Christ Church.  One lantern if by land, two lanterns if by sea.  Johnny and Priscilla learn that the British Colonel is going to do some country riding tonight.  They go tell Dr. Warren.  The doctor figures out they will be leaving from Cambridge and marching seventeen miles to Concord.  He sends Priscilla to Revere's house to tell him about the move.  Johnny will go to Christ Church with the news.   The soldiers try to detain Johnny, but he slips out from under their grasp.  He runs to the church and tells Mr. Newman the message. 

Paul gets on his horse and rides out to warn the countryside that the redcoats are coming and for them to turn out their militia.  Johnny is headed for Lexington.  Priscilla tries to stop him, but she can't. 

Lexington Green, April 19, 1775.  Major Pitcairn is commanding the advance party.  Colonel Smith is with the main body.  The colonials hear the drums of the Britsh.  Johnny is there next to Rab.  He doesn't have a musket so he stands behind Rab.  The Major gives the command to disperse.  Then someone fires a shot and everyone starts shooting.  No one knows who fired the first shot. A lot of the rebels run for it.  More and more colonial reinforcements arrive from everywhere.  They are headed to North Bridge so they can stop the British from destroying the bridge and cutting the colonials off from Concord. 

The British are busy dismantling the North Bridge.  They see a large group of colonials headed their way.  The British fire and the colonials fire back.  The British break ranks and start running from the field.  The men chase after the redcoats.  They run, stop and fire and then run again to a new position.  There are so many of these ambushes that it really takes a toll on the British troops.  It's night by the time they get back to Boston.       

Priscilla looks around for Johnny.  She finds him and thinks he's wounded.  He tells her, he's not hurt, just tuckered out from fighting redcoats all day long.  Priscilla tells him she's glad that it's all over now.  Mr. Otis hears her and says:  "Over?  Nothing is over.  It's only a beginning.  A kindling of the flame.  Feed it, lads, as you fed it with your blood today.  For 'tis the spark of liberty that you've touched to fire.  And its light must grow till every dark corner is vanished and it illuminates the world. 


A simple, straightforward film that is best for young people, but it does cover the crucial events of the Boston Tea party and the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  It was an interesting review for me, but it also told about more of the men belonging to the Sons of Liberty group. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. .


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