Huckleberry Finn (1974)

G | 114 or 118 mins | Adventure, Musical | 1974

Director:

J. Lee Thompson

Producer:

Arthur P. Jacobs

Cinematographer:

Laszlo Kovacs

Production Designer:

Phillip Jefferies

Production Company:

Reader's Digest
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HISTORY

According to various contemporary sources, including studio production notes from AMPAS Library files and a Jun 1974 issue of Reader’s Digest , the film was a follow-up to the success of the Reader’s Digest -United Artists production Tom Sawyer (1973, see entry). Studio notes stated that producer Arthur P. Jacobs was in the middle of shooting Tom Sawyer during the summer of 1972 when he decided to make another musical of the Mark Twain characters. A 6 Sep 1972 HR news item announced that brothers Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, who wrote the screenplay for Tom Sawyer , had signed to both adapt the novel and write the music for Huckleberry Finn before the filming for Tom Sawyer was complete. Actor Jeff East, who played “Huckleberry Finn” in Tom Sawyer , was set to reprise his role.
       According to production notes, the Sherman brothers took a “contemporary” approach to the story and sought to update the racially stereotyped dialect used in Twain’s novel. While a 19 Aug 1973 LAT article noted that Jacobs felt the word “nigger” was needed in a few key scenes to accentuate the authenticity of the picture, a 15 Oct 1973 Newsweek news item noted that the word was deliberately edited. The word is used once in the film by a slave hunter. Production notes reported that the Sherman brothers took six months to write Huckleberry Finn as opposed to the four years of preparations that went into Tom Sawyer .
       A 6 Dec ... More Less

According to various contemporary sources, including studio production notes from AMPAS Library files and a Jun 1974 issue of Reader’s Digest , the film was a follow-up to the success of the Reader’s Digest -United Artists production Tom Sawyer (1973, see entry). Studio notes stated that producer Arthur P. Jacobs was in the middle of shooting Tom Sawyer during the summer of 1972 when he decided to make another musical of the Mark Twain characters. A 6 Sep 1972 HR news item announced that brothers Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, who wrote the screenplay for Tom Sawyer , had signed to both adapt the novel and write the music for Huckleberry Finn before the filming for Tom Sawyer was complete. Actor Jeff East, who played “Huckleberry Finn” in Tom Sawyer , was set to reprise his role.
       According to production notes, the Sherman brothers took a “contemporary” approach to the story and sought to update the racially stereotyped dialect used in Twain’s novel. While a 19 Aug 1973 LAT article noted that Jacobs felt the word “nigger” was needed in a few key scenes to accentuate the authenticity of the picture, a 15 Oct 1973 Newsweek news item noted that the word was deliberately edited. The word is used once in the film by a slave hunter. Production notes reported that the Sherman brothers took six months to write Huckleberry Finn as opposed to the four years of preparations that went into Tom Sawyer .
       A 6 Dec 1972 Var news item announced that United Artists and Reader’s Digest had negotiated a deal to go forward with the production of Huckleberry Finn but the director and lead actors were not determined. On 9 Apr 1973, DV reported that J. Lee Thompson had been selected to direct. Although a 13 Apr 1973 HR news item stated that musician Sly Stone was the first choice for the role of “Jim,” HR reported on 7 May 1973 that Paul Winfield was cast instead. A 30 Apr 1973 DV news item announced that Eddie Albert was signed to star, but he did not retain his role in the production. Musical arranger Irwin Kostal was set to supervise, arrange and conduct the soundtrack, according to news items in HR and DV on 11 May 1973, but Var announced on 24 Oct 1973 that Fred Werner was signed to the position and the production was nearly complete. The news item noted that the film’s budget was $3 million and that its producer, Jacobs, was recently deceased. A 19 Aug 1973 LAT article stated that Jacobs died at the age of 51 from a heart attack shortly after filming had started and his wife, Natalie Trudy, who was cast in the role of “Mrs. Loftus,” left the set for bereavement.
       As reported in LAT , United Artists hired executive Robert F. Blumofe to oversee the production, which resumed after a day-long delay. Although Blumofe is not credited as a producer, the end credits contain the following written acknowledgement: “Our grateful thanks to Robert F. Blumofe for his help on this film.” Several weeks after Jacobs’s death, Winfield was arrested for marijuana possession. The actor told LAT that he was unaware that the unmarked package he received in the mail contained drugs and Thompson, as well as other members of the cast and crew, complained that Winfield was treated unfairly because of his race. Winfield expressed concern about racism, both on the set and in the narrative of the film, to Thompson and Jacobs before signing on to the project. He reported to LAT that the filmmakers “’agreed with me that those who saw the film would always be aware that the slaves were there under duress.’”
       Although the novel describes a trip down the Mississippi River and has many locations, budgetary constraints required the filmmakers to focus principal photography in one area, according to production notes, and Natchez, Mississippi, provided the location for Hannibal, MO, Cairo, IL, and Claireville, Barrytown and Jackson’s Landing, LA. Several Natchez antebellum mansions were used, including Dunleith and Auburn, and the interiors of the Wilks house were shot at Texada, a home in downtown Natchez built in 1792. The Natchez City Auditorium housed a set for the Grangerford home’s ballroom, as well as the Wilks’ attic and interiors of the Loftus house. In the oldest district of Natchez, known as Natchez-Under-the-Hill, a harbor was constructed, and, according to production notes, the authentic “steam-driven stern paddlewheeler” riverboat used in the production, Julia Belle Swain , was also used in Tom Sawyer . Additional scenes were filmed at Jefferson Military College. Hundreds of locals were cast as extras and in bit parts, and many props were loaned to the production by Mississippi families. In response to Winfield’s arrest, Thompson told LAT that he would never film in Natchez again, even though he had previously considered it as the location for his next film.
       HR production charts on 22 Jun 1973 reported that filming began on 18 Jun 1973. According to news items in HR and DV on 20 Jun 1973, the first day of shooting in Nauvoo, IL, was delayed by a tornado, and the storm left some parts of the film’s Mississippi locations twenty feet under water.
       On 25 Feb 1974, HR announced that the American Film Institute was sponsoring the film’s world premiere on 17 Mar 1974 at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Apr 1974
p. 4681.
Daily Variety
7 Sep 1972.
---
Daily Variety
9 Apr 1973.
---
Daily Variety
30 Apr 1973.
---
Daily Variety
11 May 1973.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jun 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Sep 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 May 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jun 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 1973
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 1973
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Feb 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 1974
p. 3, 19.
LAHExam
18 Jul 1973.
---
LAHExam
21 Jun 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Aug 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Jun 1974.
---
New York Times
21 Apr 1973.
---
New York Times
25 May 1974
p. 16.
Newsweek
15 Oct 1973.
---
Reader's Digest
Jun 1974.
---
Time
17 Jun 1974.
---
Variety
6 Dec 1972.
---
Variety
18 Apr 1973.
---
Variety
24 Oct 1973.
---
Variety
3 Apr 1974
p. 14.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Arthur P. Jacobs Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
Art illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost and asst to the des
Cost and asst to the des
MUSIC
Mus & lyrics by
Mus & lyrics by
Mus cond and comp
"Freedom" performed by
Mus rec
Mus ed
Mus assoc
Rehearsal pianist
SOUND
Re-rec supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles des
DANCE
Choreog
Asst choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Public relations
Loc auditor
Prod coord
Asst prod mgr
Loc mgr
Scr supv
Teamster capt
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (New York, 1884).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, A Musical Adaptation
Release Date:
1974
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 24 May 1974
Los Angeles opening: 19 June 1974
Production Date:
18 June--late August 1973 in Natchez, MS and Nauvoo, IL
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corporation
Copyright Date:
13 March 1974
Copyright Number:
MP25284
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
DeLuxe
Widescreen/ratio
2.35:1
Lenses
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
114 or 118
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
2365
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In antebellum Hannibal, Missouri, a slave named Jim kisses his wife goodbye and heads out to look for his young friend, Huckleberry Finn. Finding the orphan fishing, Jim warns Huckleberry that the spinster sisters who are trying to civilize him are expecting him home for supper. In the dinning room, the sisters question Huckleberry about Sunday school as Jim waits the table. The elder sister, Widder Douglas, tells Huckleberry that they are helping him join society because the treasure he discovered, which is held in a trust, will make him a rich man one day. When Miss Watson adds that Huckleberry should not grow up to be like his alcoholic father, who drowned, Huckleberry comments that Pap may still be alive. Excusing himself to go to his room, Huckleberry finds Pap waiting. Angry that Huckleberry has not shared his fortune, the drunk shoves his son, but the sisters come to the boy’s defense. As Pap takes Huckleberry away, he demands $1000 ransom for the boy’s return and suggests that the sisters sell Jim to raise the money. Jim overhears the argument and rushes home to tell his wife that he is running away to Cairo, Illinois, the closest town in a free state. As he leaves, Jim promises that their family will be reunited one day. Meanwhile, Pap locks Huckleberry inside his cabin and vows to acquire his son’s cash, but when he returns from Hannibal empty-handed, he finds Huckleberry missing and assumes the boy has been murdered. Huckleberry, who smeared pig blood in the cabin to stage his death, escapes to an island and is bitten by a ... +


In antebellum Hannibal, Missouri, a slave named Jim kisses his wife goodbye and heads out to look for his young friend, Huckleberry Finn. Finding the orphan fishing, Jim warns Huckleberry that the spinster sisters who are trying to civilize him are expecting him home for supper. In the dinning room, the sisters question Huckleberry about Sunday school as Jim waits the table. The elder sister, Widder Douglas, tells Huckleberry that they are helping him join society because the treasure he discovered, which is held in a trust, will make him a rich man one day. When Miss Watson adds that Huckleberry should not grow up to be like his alcoholic father, who drowned, Huckleberry comments that Pap may still be alive. Excusing himself to go to his room, Huckleberry finds Pap waiting. Angry that Huckleberry has not shared his fortune, the drunk shoves his son, but the sisters come to the boy’s defense. As Pap takes Huckleberry away, he demands $1000 ransom for the boy’s return and suggests that the sisters sell Jim to raise the money. Jim overhears the argument and rushes home to tell his wife that he is running away to Cairo, Illinois, the closest town in a free state. As he leaves, Jim promises that their family will be reunited one day. Meanwhile, Pap locks Huckleberry inside his cabin and vows to acquire his son’s cash, but when he returns from Hannibal empty-handed, he finds Huckleberry missing and assumes the boy has been murdered. Huckleberry, who smeared pig blood in the cabin to stage his death, escapes to an island and is bitten by a poisonous snake. Several days later, Jim revives the boy and reports that boats have been searching for his body. When Huckleberry explains the hoax he played on his father, Jim tells him that he ran away and the two fugitives board Jim’s raft for a journey to freedom. As they float down the Mississippi River, Huck spots a houseboat, but when Jim boards it to steal food, he sees Pap dead. Returning to the raft, Jim does not tell Huckleberry that the dead man is his father. Sometime later, Jim announces they are lost and Huckleberry, who disguises himself in girls’ clothing, knocks on the door of a pistol-bearing local, Mrs. Loftus. The woman takes pity on the lost child and Huckleberry learns that he and Jim have landed in St. Petersburg, Missouri, thirty miles south of their desired stopover, Goshen, Illinois. Mrs. Loftus warns that the escaped slave who murdered Huckleberry Finn is on the loose and there is an $800 reward for his capture, but she realizes her companion is hiding his true identity. After promising not to turn Huckleberry in, Mrs. Loftus directs him to town and cautions him to avoid the neighboring plantation. However, Huckleberry is chased by the estate’s owner, Colonel Saul Grangerford, and when Huckleberry claims he fell overboard on a steamboat, the Colonel invites him to stay at Grangerford Manor. As Huckleberry takes his first indoor bath, a black youngster named Buck introduces himself as Huckleberry’s “personal manservant.” At breakfast the next morning with the Colonel’s large family, Huckleberry says he must leave, but he is distracted by the Colonel’s beautiful daughters, Miss Charlotte and Miss Emmeline. Later, at a ball, Miss Charlotte is missing and her brother, Jason, runs inside to announce that she has eloped with a member of the Shepherdson family. When the Colonel declares war, Jason says that the Shepherdsons have the plantation surrounded and a gunfight ensues. As the Colonel tells Huckleberry that he does not remember what provoked animosity between the two families generations ago, he is shot dead. Buck guides Huckleberry back to the river, where he reunites with Jim. As they float past Goshen, Jim expresses concern that he has been labeled a murderer, but Huckleberry says he cannot return to Hannibal to tell the truth for fear of his father and they must stick together. When Jim spots a boat of slave hunters and hides, Huckleberry outwits the men by implying that his smallpox-afflicted father is aboard the raft. The next day, Huckleberry and Jim come across The King and The Duke of Bilgewater, two charlatans pretending to be royalty who are thrown off a steamboat for their escapades. As the men feign tears for being unfairly demoted in their stature, Huckleberry welcomes them aboard the raft. Although The King suspects Jim of being a runaway slave, Huckleberry concocts a story to prove Jim is free. Sometime later, Jim suggests that the men pretend he is their slave so their statuses are no longer questioned. The King, however, decides they should travel in the guise of the Royal Shakespeare Touring Company so they can pilfer money with a performance of “The Royal Nonesuch.” When The King advertises the show as inappropriate for women and children, a crowd of men eagerly attend. After an impromptu introduction by The King, the men escape town with the box-office receipts while the audience waits for the show to begin. As they move to another town to repeat the ploy, Jim tells Huckleberry that it is unethical, but Huckleberry points out that they are only a few days away from Cairo. Meanwhile, at a bar, The King is mistaken for Reverend Wilks, the English brother of a wealthy townsman who has recently died, and the King orchestrates another hoax to obtain the inheritance. Leaving Jim with the raft, The King returns to town dressed as a minister with Huckleberry and The Duke, who pretends to be deaf and mute. At the home of Maryjane and Susan Wilks, The King and The Duke are received as uncles and as they attend the elder Wilks’s wake, The King leads the townspeople in an improvised hymn. At dinner, the sisters give The King their father’s will that reveals gold hidden underneath the house. Rushing away with The Duke to retrieve it, The King claims they will keep the inheritance safe for the sisters. Later, Maryjane brings a blanket to Huckleberry’s bed and admits that she feels fondness for him. Climbing through the window of The King and The Duke’s room, Huckleberry retrieves the gold. In the morning, The King is outraged to discover the gold missing and when he goes for the sheriff, Huckleberry returns to the Wilks house to tell the sisters about The King’s true intentions. Later, The King attempts to auction the sister’s belongings, claiming that the proceeds will provide their dowry, but Huckleberry secretly lights The Duke’s foot on fire. As he screams, the townspeople realize The Duke’s claim of being a deaf mute is a hoax. The King attempts to depict the incident as a miracle, but the real Reverend Wilks arrives and the charlatans are taken to jail. Later, Huckleberry tells Maryjane that the gold is hidden in her father’s coffin and, after she kisses him goodbye, he returns to the raft and finds Jim missing. Coming upon a chain gang of captured slaves, Huckleberry sees Jim tied to a post and throws him a knife. As the guards watch a passing barge, Jim cuts himself free and escapes with Huckleberry. After trudging through a swamp, Jim tires and Huckleberry is surprised to discover that he and Jim have the same colored blood. Jim tells Huckleberry that he does not need to continue running away because Pap is dead. Jim confesses that he did not reveal the truth sooner because it would have been impossible to reach freedom without his young friend. When they hear the slave hunters’ dogs in the distance, Huckleberry trades shirts with Jim to throw off the scent. Huckleberry directs Jim to the raft and says that when he reaches Cairo, which is only five miles away, he should send for his wife and child. Huckleberry insists on using his money to pay for their safe passage and they agree to be business partners when Jim opens a shop in Cairo. As they part, Huckleberry watches Jim on the raft, floating toward his new life as a free man. +

Legend
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Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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