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« MIDDLEMARCH and the Reform Bills | Main | A Huck Finn Map »

The Cultural Icon That Is Huckleberry Finn

As you probably know, there is almost no book so lauded in film, television, and even Broadway musicals as HUCKLEBERRY FINN. I thought it might be fun to see some of the old clips and bits from various productions.

Here's the trailer for the 1939 movie, starring Andy Rooney as Huck (with William Frawley--I LOVE LUCY's Fred Mertz--as the Duke).

Note the subtle changes from the book. In fact, this has become standard operating procedure: "adapting the classic." We might want to talk about why. After all, GONE WITH THE WIND was very faithfully turned into a movie, sometimes word by word in its dialogue. But not HUCK. Almost never. It's always adapted.

Here's a 1993 Disney production starring a very young Elijah Wood (with a very bad Southern accent). Note the other problems in the trailer. Is the novel HUCK FINN really about "finding one man's freedom"? Note how Jim's character is considerably "straighened" (to use Huck's word). And other things, of course. Like the American optimism, so cheery and happy.

In fact, almost as soon as movies were made, movies were made about Huck Finn. Here are some remarkable clips from the restoration of the silent, 1920 version of the novel.

And here's a 1955 CBS made-for-TV movie. There are commercials embedded in this clip--I think it's the entire movie for television, in fact--but if you skip ahead to time mark 26:20, you'll get the gist: that Jim's essentially written out of the script! There's Huck alone on the raft.

And of course, there was the 1985 Broadway musical, BIG RIVER, now a standard on the community theater circuit. Here's a clip from a regional theater production. The production values, acting, and choreography leave a bit to be desired--apparently, Huck has morphed into a gorgeous twentysomething, too--but I hope you can see how racism trips them up at every turn. Without Twain/Huck's voice as the guiding principle, we're left with the most viscious stereotypes. Which may or may not be the point. At least, it's a point we'll want to discuss quite a bit.

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