Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Title: The Adventures of Huck Finn
Source materials: Mark Twain’s 1884 novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Budget: $6.5 million
Box office: $24.1 million
Plot: Huckleberry Finn is a half-literate son of Pap Finn, a drunk. One night, his father arrives and Huck is taken away to his father’s home. Jealous of Huck’s money being kept away, he attacks Huck, but eventually passes out from exhaustion.
Huck fakes his own death and runs away. He is accompanied by Jim, a slave who worked for Huck’s foster family, and escaped the family out of fear for being sold off. The duo follow the Mississippi River to Cairo, Illinois, so Jim can escape to freedom without being arrested.
They come across a wanted poster for Jim, falsely saying that he murdered Huck. Jim and Huck come across a sinking barge one night, and Jim notices Huck’s father’s corpse on the ship. Huck notices two sailors leaving one to drown in a room as the water comes crashing through. Huck and Jim’s canoe sinks, but they steal another one, as the barge completely sinks underwater.
The canoe is struck by a steamboat, and Huck is at first captured by a few men, then taken to the home of the Graingerford family. Huck lies about his life to the Graingerfords to avoid suspicion. The Graingerfords are in a feud with another family, the Shepherdsons. Huck even befriends Billy Graingerford, the Graingerford patriarch’s son, but is horrified that Jim is found by the family and has become a slave. Billy’s older sister Sophie runs away to marry a Shepherdson, thus a short firefight happens, killing all the male Graingerfords in the process, including Billy.
Jim and Huck find themselves past Cairo, and two con men: The Duke and The King, join Huck and Jim. The quartet land at Phelps Landing, and The King and The Duke impersonate British members of the Wilks family to con three sisters, Mary Jane, Julia, and Susan, out of their fortune.
Meanwhile, Jim has been taken to prison for Huck’s murder, and tells Huck about his dead father, thus Huck rebukes Jim. Huck puts the money in the coffin of a recently deceased family member. He exposes The King and The Duke as con men to Mary Jane, and tells her to tell the town at 10:00, when a steamboat to Cairo departs.
Dr. Robinson doesn’t trust The King and The Duke’s scheme, and the real members of the family, whom The King and The Duke were impersonating, show up. The town dig up the buried coffin where the money was put, and thus tar and feather The Duke and The King, and become an angry mob. Huck breaks Jim out of prison, but they are spotted by the mob in the process. While escaping, Huck is shot in the back. Jim sacrifices his chance to escape to freedom and carries Huck to the mob, allowing himself to be hanged. Before the mob can hang Jim, however, Mary Jane, Julia, and Susan arrive and stop the hanging from happening. The mob sets Jim free, and Huck passes out.
Huck wakes up in the Wilks homestead and learns that Jim’s master Miss Watson, who was also one of Huck’s caretakers, died, setting Jim free in her will. The other caretaker plans on civilizing Huck, but Huck, narrating the story, says, “I’ve been there before.” The film ends with Huck running off into the sunset.
Background: The Adventures of Huck Finn was filmed entirely in Natchez, Mississippi. Archie Moore, who played Jim in the 1960 film version appears in a cameo as a slave who warns Huck about the two feuding families, saying “lots of people are going to die today.”
Changes from the Source Material: The book has a slightly different ending. Huck comes across the Phelps family, where Jim is being held, and pretends to be their nephew Tom. When the real nephew arrives, it turns out to be Tom Sawyer. They form a plan to free Jim, and it is Tom who is shot instead of Huck. Tom Sawyer does not appear in this film.
Cast: Jason Robards returns as The King, Robbie Coltrane returns as The Duke, Ron Perlman returns as Pap Finn, and James Gammon returns as Deputy Hines. Director Stephen Sommers cameos as the Silhouetted man.
Elijah Wood as Huckleberry “Huck” Finn. He is best known for his portrayal of Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Wood made his film debut with a small part in Back to the Future Part II He went on to achieve recognition as a child actor with roles in Avalon, Paradise, Radio Flyer, Forever Young, and The Good Son. As a teenager, he starred in films such as North, The War, Flipper, The Ice Storm, Deep Impact, and The Faculty. Following the success of The Lord of the Rings, Wood has appeared in a wide range of films, including Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sin City, Green Street, Everything Is Illuminated, Paris, je t’aime, Bobby, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Maniac, Grand Piano, The Last Witch Hunter, The Trust, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, and Come to Daddy. Wood’s voice roles include Mumble in Happy Feet, and its sequel, the title character in 9, Spyro the Dragon in the Legend of Spyro video game trilogy, Beck on Tron: Uprising, and Wirt in Over the Garden Wall. He also played Ryan Newman in Wilfred, for which he received a Satellite Award nomination for Best Actor, and Todd Brotzman in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Courtney B. Vance as Jim. Vance started his career on the Broadway stage in Fences, Six Degrees of Separation, and Lucky Guy for which he won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. He is known for his roles in films such as Hamburger Hill, The Hunt for Red October, The Preacher’s Wife, Cookie’s Fortune, and Isle of Dogs. Vance is also known for Law & Order: Criminal Intent, where he played Assistant District Attorney Ron Carver. He also guest-starred on Picket Fences, The Closer, Revenge, Scandal, and Masters of Sex. Vance won great acclaim for his performance as Johnnie Cochran in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story where he received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. He recently appeared in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Lovecraft Country.
Dana Ivey as Widow Douglas. She is a five-time Tony Award nominee for her work on Broadway, and won the 1997 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play for her work in both Sex and Longing and The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Her film appearances include The Color Purple, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Addams Family, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Two Weeks Notice, Rush Hour 3, and The Help. Mary Louise Wilson as Miss Watson. Wilson’s most notable work includes a Tony Award-winning role on Broadway in Grey Gardens. Films include Klute, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Money Pit, Pet Sematary, She-Devil, Green Card, Nebraska, and Ocean’s 8.
Anne Heche as Mary Jane Wilks. Films include Donnie Brasco, Volcano, Six Days, Seven Nights, Return to Paradise, Psycho, Birth, Spread, Cedar Rapids, Rampart, and Catfight. Heche received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the Lifetime movie Gracie’s Choice and a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play for her work in Broadway’s Twentieth Century. She has starred in the television series Men in Trees, Hung, Save Me, Aftermath, and The Brave. Paxton Whitehead as Harvey Wilks. He was nominated for a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for his performance as Pellinore in the 1980 revival of Camelot. Film roles include Back to School, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Baby Boom, Kate & Leopold, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
Tom Aldredge as Dr. Robinson. He played both the Narrator and the Mysterious Man in the original Broadway cast of Into The Woods. He also appeared on television in programs including Ryan’s Hope, Damages, and Boardwalk Empire, with a notable role as Hugh De Angelis on The Sopranos. Renee O’Connor as Julia Wilks. She is best known for the role of Gabrielle on the Xena: Warrior Princess.
Laura Bell Bundy as Susan Wilks. She was the original Amber Von Tussle in the musical version of Hairspray, the original Elle Woods in the musical version of Legally Blonde, and Dr. Jordan Denby on television’s Anger Management. She also appeared in Life with Mikey, Jumanji and Dreamgirls. Curtis Armstrong as Country Jake. He is best known for playing the roles of Booger in the Revenge of the Nerds movies, Herbert Viola on the TV series Moonlighting, Miles Dalby in the film Risky Business, famed record producer Ahmet Ertegun in the film Ray as well as for playing the role of Metatron on the TV series Supernatural. He is also known for providing his voice for such characters as Schmuley “Snot” Lonstein on the animated TV series American Dad! and Maru in the animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue in addition to portraying the title character on the animated TV series Dan Vs. and Ezekiel the Cockroach on Doom Patrol .
Frances Conroy as Scrawny Shanty Woman. She is best known for playing Ruth Fisher on the television series Six Feet Under, for which she won a Golden Globe and three Screen Actors Guild Awards. She is also known for playing the older version of Moira O’Hara in season one of the television anthology series American Horror Story, which garnered Conroy her first Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress on Television nomination, and as well a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie. Conroy subsequently portrayed The Angel of Death, Myrtle Snow, Gloria Mott, Mama Polk, and Bebe Babbitt on six further seasons of the show: Asylum, Coven, Freak Show, Roanoke, Cult, and Apocalypse, respectively. For her performance in Coven, she was nominated again for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie. She starred as Dawn in the first season of the Hulu original series Casual, which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for its first season. She starred as Nathalie Raven in The Mist and in Joker as the titular character’s mother.
Music: The film’s score was written by Bill Conti
Critical Reception:Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, writing “The story of Huck and Jim has been told in six or seven earlier movies, and now comes The Adventures of Huck Finn, a graceful and entertaining version by a young director named Stephen Sommers, who doesn’t dwell on the film’s humane message, but doesn’t avoid it, either.”
Legacy: In 1995 released Tom and Huck, starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Brad Renfro, adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
My take: It looks fantastic and well shot. And what a stacked cast. Wood is another one of those child actors who can actually act. Watching Robards and Coltrane pull their con is legitimately funny.
Available on Disney +?: Yes
Next Week: Blank Check