Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 18 min.
Our content ratings(0-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0.
Our star rating (0-5): 2 1/2
But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to the feast, either yesterday or today?” Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem; he said, ‘Let me go; for our family is holding a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your sight, let me get away, and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”
1 Samuel 27-29
Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.
I came across this DVD right after having seen The Good Lie, the film about Sudanese refugees in America in which Mark Twain’s novel is discussed in a literature class. And so I offer this take on it for those who might not want to go back to the lengthy book itself, this film version being but 78 minutes.
In this just fair version of ABC TV’s production of Mark Twain’s classic, Ron Howard and Donny Most star as Huck and Tom. This raises an immediate problem of credibility. Instead of the school age lads of the novel, the strapping two actors look like they are ready to shave, and in his struggle with Pap, Huck looks far more powerful than the smaller actor playing the father. The filmmakers obviously chose the two lead actors, especially Ron Howard of Opie Taylor fame, for their star power rather than their age appropriateness. This said, the film still could provide some enjoyable family viewing.
After the unnecessary introduction by Royal Danoas Mark Twain, the story begins with Huck overhearing his guardian the widow Douglas negotiating the sale of their slave, Jim (Antonio Fargas). Although a kindly lady intending to “civilize” her wild charge, the cash-strapped Mrs. Douglas needs the $800 Jim’s sale would bring. Right after that, on his way to church choir practice, his drunken father abducts Huck. He eventually manages to escape via a raft on the Mississippi River, but not before he joins up with Jim (Antonio Fargas), who has runaway because of the impending sale. During a fireside conversation Huck admits that he is torn between his duty as a white person to report Jim and their past friendship. He is put to the test when slave catchers arrive and question Huck about the runaway. The boy could have given in to his racist upbringing by pointing to Jim’s hiding place, but he tells the pursuers that he has not seen him. This is the incident that the students and teacher discuss in the movie The Good Lie, and which gives the later film its title. Some ethicists might question whether there can be a “good” lie. And yet as we see in the above passage from 1 Samuel, Saul’s son Jonathan lies to his father as part of his scheme to save the life of his best friend from his father’s jealous wrath.
During his subsequent conversation with Jim Huck ruthfully admits that now he must be an “abolitionist,” a hateful label among his kin. The novel goes into this far more, with Huck convinced that he is now doomed to hell for his lie because that is what he had heard in church where the preacher had condemned abolitionists. I also recall that this is well handled in the Broadway musical adaptation of the novel, The Big River. (The actors in that show also were also much older than their characters, but this was more acceptable in the play where we see them only at a distance.)
The DVD story continues with Huck and Jim meeting up with and forced to join the comical but dangerous con men King and the Duke, delightfully played by Jack Elam and Merle Haggard, in their scheme. The grifters pose as the uncles of two girls whose parents have died, and Huck and Jim are said to be their servants. And of course, later on when Jim is captured, Tom shows up and belatedly saves the day, with Jim then heading North (earlier they had at night sailed by the mouth of the Ohio River) for freedom and Huck deciding to go west to start a new life.
The film originally was released as a single feature, but the disc I bought recently also includes David O. Selznick’s 1938 Tom Sawyer. Unseen by me is a 1939 release starring Mickey Rooney as Huck, but as I saw no listing in the cast for Tom Sawyer, I presume he was written out of the script. Made at a time when the Southern dominated Hollywood still was spreading racist stereotypes, I wonder how Huck’s struggle with his conscience was handled. This version is rentable at Amazon.com. Given the dramatic tension within Huck and between him and Jim, it is surprising that there has not been a more recent, better production of this great story. Until it comes along, this older TV version will have to do.
Note: For those wanting more about The Big River there is a wonderful site that includes the song lyrics and You Tube videos of corresponding scenes from a presentation of the play. Click onto the title or go to http://www.stlyrics.com/b/bigriver.htm.