Huckleberry Finn (1974)
The screenplay adaptation for Huckleberry Finn was written by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, who also wrote all the songs. The Sherman brothers were already a well-established songwriting team who had made a name for themselves penning tunes for Disney films including Mary Poppins (1964) (for which they won two Academy Awards), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). Huckleberry Finn was a follow up to 1973's Tom Sawyer for which the Shermans had also written the screenplay and songs. Tom Sawyer, which starred Johnny Whitaker and Jodie Foster, had been very popular and garnered three Oscar® nominations, including one for Best Musical Score. Based on Tom Sawyer's success, hopes were high that Huckleberry Finn would do just as well.
Unfortunately, the production of Huckleberry Finn ran into several setbacks. For instance, Robert Sherman was forced to have knee surgery in the middle of filming, putting him out of commission for a lengthy period of time. The director, J. Lee Thompson, was inexperienced at directing musicals or how to effectively stage the musical numbers. Also complicating matters was singer Roberta Flack who, according to the Shermans' 1998 book Walt's Time: From Before to Beyond, made it difficult to release an original soundtrack recording due to her creative demands regarding her opening song "Freedom". Additionally, producer Arthur Jacobs tragically suffered a heart attack and died halfway through the filming.
Though Huckleberry Finn didn't live up to box office expectations, it is often charming and engaging due to the personable cast. Jeff East, who went on to portray the teenage Clark Kent in Richard Donner's Superman (1978), reprises his role as Huck after first appearing in Tom Sawyer. Paul Winfield, fresh from his Oscar®-nominated performance in Sounder (1972), brings a quiet dignity to the role of Jim. Veteran actor Gary Merrill rants with devilish glee in his small but memorable part as Huck's father, and Carol Burnett Show alumnus Harvey Korman relishes his comic villain turn as The King.
Fans of Twain's book should enjoy seeing this unusual musical adaptation. Songs include "Cairo, Illinois", "Rotten Luck", "A Rose in a Bible" and "The Royal Nonesuch". Roberta Flack's "Freedom", sung over the opening credits, is particularly lovely.
Producer: Arthur P. Jacobs
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay: Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman; Mark Twain (novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn")
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Film Editing: Michael F. Anderson
Cast: Jeff East (Huckleberry Finn), Paul Winfield (Jim), Harvey Korman (The King), David Wayne (The Duke), Arthur O'Connell (Col. Grangerford), Gary Merrill (Pap), Natalie Trundy (Mrs. Loftus), Lucille Benson (Widder Douglas), Kim O'Brien (Maryjane Wilks).
by Andrea Passafiume