Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Some months ago I did a series of posts here about Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel that has held me since I first sat in my fourth-grade classroom in 1953 and listened to my wonderful teacher, Mrs. Rockwell--her first name was Stella ... perfect--read the novel aloud to us after recess (if we were "good").  I mentioned earlier that I subsequently learned that Mrs. Rockwell had been ... judicious about her reading, leaving out the shooting of Buck Grangerford, the Royal Nonesuch, and other upsetting or naughty moments.

In the summer of 1960, when I was about to begin my junior year in high school, a new film version of the novel appeared--The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, directed by Michael Curtiz, who'd directed Casablanca and Mildred Pierce and White Christmas and The Will Rogers Story and King Creole and...  He had quite a career.

But his Huck Finn film is a mess.  I recently watched it (via Netflix) for the first time since 1960 (when it appeared at the Hiram College Cinema one Sunday night), and all resemblances to Twain's novel are purely accidental.

The casting was a series of mistakes.  Little Eddie Hodges played Huck as if he were a little bouncy suburbanite in need of some Ritalin.  Poor Archie Moore, a boxing champion (near retirement), played Jim.  It must have grated him, saying those inane lines.  I hope they paid him a lot.

The King was Tony Randall, well-known comic actor at the time, who conveyed none of the menace the part demanded but who--as per the script--played kissy-face with Mary Jane Wilkes and was clearly pushing for even more.  (A horny King?  There's a first.)  I was looking forward to seeing silent-film star Buster Keaton, 65 at the time, who had a minor role as a lion-tamer.  (I know ... where's that in the novel?)  But Keaton didn't get to do much--except move far more gracefully than anyone else in the frame, including the lion, which appeared to be either heavily sedated--Ritalin?--or bored.

How about a list of things I found surprising/annoying?

  • Pap (the nasty Neville Brand plays him) does not chase Huck around with a knife--though he does take him off to the cabin.
  • Tom Sawyer is not in the film at all.
  • The Grangerford-Shepherdson feud--appearing out of order--lasts about four minutes.  No Emmeline, though.  No Buck.
  • Huck and Jim join the circus.  They try to pass Jim off as an African king.  The rubes buy it--until the other King blows their cover.
  • Huck wants to work on a riverboat.  At the end of the film he does not "light out for the territory" but for a boat--while Jim is left "free" near Cairo, Illinois.  (Fugitive Slave Act anyone?)
  • No Royal Nonesuch.  No tarring and feathering of the King and Duke.
  • No moment of moral crisis when Huck must decide if he's going to turn in runaway Jim.
  • Huck does help Jim escape--but not from the Phelpses' farm--and not in the cruel way Tom Sawyer arranges it in the book.
  • No shooting of the drunk, Old Boggs, by Col. Sherburn.
  • Events are out of order.
  • No cemetery coffin-opening in the swindling of the Wilkeses.  Huck is caught hiding the money in the house.
  • I could go on, but I'm getting depressed.
Every now and then you read some horror story about some sicko who slashes a painting in an art gallery (Link)--or takes a hammer to a sculpture (Link).  I read in this second link that Laszlo Toth, who attacked Michelangelo's Pietà in 1972, got a couple of years in a mental institution.  Other art-defilers have gone to prison.

But not filmmakers.

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