Cast & Crew
In the mid-eighteenth century, along the Mississippi River, young Huckleberry Finn, the son of the loutish drunk "Pap" Finn, lives with the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Though the widow loves Huck and he is fond of her, he finds it difficult to behave like the gentleman she wants, preferring loafing to going to school and going barefoot to wearing shoes. One night, when Pap goes to the widow and demands eight hundred dollars from her to keep his son, Huck overhears and decides to leave to prevent her from impoverishing herself for him. Huck then leaves, but is caught by his father, who confines him in a shack across the river. When Pap leaves him alone, Huck escapes and makes it appear as if he has been murdered and dumped into the river. He then goes upstream, and sometime later runs into his friend Jim, the widow's slave. Jim has run away from the widow because she was planning to sell him to raise money to keep Huck. Unknown to either Jim or Huck, when evidence of Huck's apparent murder was discovered, Jim's disappearance led authorities to believe that he was the murderer. Jim is now trying to get to a free state and join his wife, so Huck decides to help him.
Farther upstream they encounter "The King" and "The Duke," two conmen who have been set adrift from a riverboat for bilking passengers, and who try to convince Huck and Jim that they are the "Lost Dauphin of France" and "The Duke of Bridgewater." Though the King and the Duke know that Jim is a runaway slave and plan to collect a reward for his return, they pretend to help him and Huck. Trying to finance their trip, the group stops at a small town along the river and advertises a theatrical production of Romeo and Juliet , starring famous actors David Garrick and Mrs. Siddons. The town gathers for the performance, but when the King dresses as Romeo and Huck dresses as Juliet, the audience chases them out of town. They are able to get away with two hundred dollars, but during the confusion Huck finds a handbill in the Duke's pocket offering a large reward for Jim.
At the next town, Pikesville, the King and the Duke plan to impersonate two men who have not been seen by their rich brother for many years. By the time they reach the man's house, they learn that he has just died, but decide to continue their ruse in order to take over the estate from the man's two daughters, Mary Jane and Susan. When Captain Brandy of the paddleboat The River Queen comes to the house, he becomes suspicous and, after Huck tells the captain about the King and the Duke, they are prevented from carrying out their greedy plans. Meanwhile, a posse has been formed to look for Jim, and when it arrives at Pikesville, Huck and Jim hide out in the woods. When a rattlesnake bites Huck, however, Jim carries the boy back to town, and he is arrested. Huck awakens from his delirium several days later and learns from the captain that he sent Jim home because of the murder charge. Almost hysterical, Huck then tells the captain that the murder for which Jim is being charged is his. Huck and the captain board The River Queen and race back home, braving a serious storm, and arrive just in time to prevent Jim from being lynched. After being re-united with the happy widow, Huck decides to change his ways and go to school like a good boy, and the widow sets Jim free to join his wife.
Jo Ann Sayers
Robert Emmett Keane
E. Alyn Warren
Edwin J. Brady
Durwood "bud" Graybill
Frank E. Hull
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Edwin B. Willis
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939)
Screenwriter Hugo Butler adapted Twain's masterpiece so freely that Tom Sawyer is actually written out of the storyline. This can probably be chalked up to the fact that Mickey Rooney plays Huck Finn, and that Louis B. Mayer was fully committed to producing films that capitalized on his image as MGM's Andy Hardy (Rooney was also the reigning king of the film exhibitors' top ten list of stars for 1939). Still, Mayer was wise enough to keep the central concept that lies at the core of Twain's story. The unfortunate lot of Huck's slave friend, Jim (Rex Ingram), isn't given a complete soft sell, and there are many warm, humanistic moments involving him. In fact, the film deserves credit for making the relationship between Huck and Jim the moral core of the film, considering the racial climate in American in the late thirties.
The plot is so iconic, there's no need to get into much detail here. Suffice it to say that Huck, who has problems with societal constraints, flees his surroundings by hopping on a raft with Jim, who's about to be sold. The two mismatched friends then take a metaphorical trip down the Mississippi River. From the moment they board the raft, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn becomes a "road picture," with Huck and Jim periodically going ashore to deal with the very sort of dishonesty and manipulation that they're boldly trying to escape.
MGM originally acquired the property from Paramount in 1933. Had it been made during Irving Thalberg's tenure as MGM's head of production, the film, in all likelihood, would have been far more loyal to the source material. Mayer took over the studio after Thalberg's untimely death in 1936, and proceeded to turn MGM's calling card into something resembling glitz over substance.
It says a lot that producer Joseph Mankiewicz once listed his favorites among the great pieces of literature that he brought to the screen, and failed to mention The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; some sources claim he completely disowned the film. Even with a top-rank star in the title role, the picture was given less consideration than other bigger, more complex releases on MGM's schedule that year. Richard Thorpe, who had just been fired off the set of The Wizard of Oz was assigned to direct it but two of his crew members, art director Cedric Gibbons and set designer Edwin Willis, continued to work simultaneously on both Oz and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Despite the slapdash production schedule, the picture was generally well received by the public. Critical reviews were mixed, however, though Newsweek voiced the most popular opinion: "If The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn fails to capture the real flavor of Mark Twain's time on the Mississippi, it does succeed in blending reliable screen ingredients into colorful and palatable entertainment."
As Rooney would say years later, "MGM was this vast factory, the General Motors of the movie business, dedicated to Mr. Mayer's views of morality, and to mass entertainment." That worked better for some pictures than for others, but Mayer, whether he was aware of it or not, played a large role in helping America define itself during the Thirties and Forties. In that sense, his interpretation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn isn't all that surprising. To Mayer, and to many in his audience, the ultimate embodiment of young American chutzpah was Andy Hardy. And as Clyde V. Haupt wrote in his essay on Huckleberry Finn on Film, Rooney's "Huck is of exactly the same temperament and in exactly the kind of situation that Andy Hardy would have gotten into, had he lived in a pre-Civil War Mississippi river town."
Still, regardless of what English teachers and Mark Twain scholars think about the 1939 version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it remains the most popular and well known film version of the novel.
Director: Richard Thorpe
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Writer: Hugo Butler (based on the novel by Mark Twain)
Cinematography: John Seitz
Editor: Frank E. Hull
Music: Franz Waxman
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis
Costume Design: Valles
Makeup: Jack Dawn
Principal Cast: Mickey Rooney (Huckleberry Finn), Walter Connolly (The King), William Frawley (The Duke), Rex Ingram (Jim), Lynne Carver (Mary Jane Wilkes), Jo Ann Sayers (Susan Wilkes), Minor Watson (Capt. Brady), Elizabeth Risdon (Widow Douglass), Victor Kilian ("Pap" Finn), Clara Blandick (Miss Watson).
B&W-91m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939)
MGM bought the rights to Mark Twain's novel specifically for 'Rooney, Mickey' .
When the con men, Walter Connolly and William Frawley, advertise Romeo and Juliet as the play they were to present, they say it stars David Garrick and Mrs. Sarah Kemble Siddons, two of the most famous British actors of the nineteenth century.
The opening credits read, "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." According to contemporary news items, M-G-M purchased the rights to Mark Twain's novel from Paramount in April 1938 in order to produce a new version of the story especially for Mickey Rooney. Portions of the picture were filmed on location in Alabama and in Isleton, CA. The final steamboat sequence was filmed on the Sacramento River in Northern California. English Actors David Garrick and Mrs. Siddons, who are advertised as the "stars" of the production of Romeo and Juliet in the film, were two of the most famous actors of the nineteenth century. For information on other filmed adaptations of Twain's novel, consult the entry below for the 1960 M-G-M release The Adventurs of Huckelberry Finn.