15 October 2018 | Revelator_
The first--and perhaps best--adaptation of Twain's classic
The first film adaptation of Huckleberry Finn remains one of the best, despite the ravages of time and a major script problem. Filmed only a decade after Mark Twain's death, this film is free from the slickness of later Hollywood adaptations and has a truly convincing young lead instead of a cutesy child actor. As Huck, Lewis Sargent is completely convincing: he's a ragged, likable mutt that Twain would have approved of (as he does in the film!). He makes Mickey Rooney look like a well-groomed phony. George Reed plays a mature, sometimes sedate Jim, but he's undeserved by the script and missing footage (including his escape). Huck and Jim's friendship doesn't comes across as deeply as it should, despite the excellence of the actors, and that is a major flaw.
William Desmond Taylor is better known for his unsolved murder than his films, but he was a skilled director with a fluid, advanced style. This film's pacing and style were advanced for 1920 and hold up well today. The settings and art direction have rustic, old-time authenticity: the filmmakers emulated Edward W. Kemble's illustrations and shot the outdoors scenes in the Sacramento River Delta (where later Finns where shot as well, since it was closer to Los Angeles than the Mississippi River and looked just as good). Since the film only survived in an incomplete print held by the Danish Film Archive, the intertitles had to be translated and recreated by the George Eastman Museum, which used text direct from Twain.
There has yet to be a great film made from this classic novel, but Taylor's production features the best Huck and is the closest to Twain's own time, which makes it worth seeing more than most later films of Huckleberry Finn.