Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Film Review: The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944)

I watched this film last Sunday, when there was nothing else on. It stars Frederic March as Samuel Clemens, Alexis Smith as his wife, and a bunch of other people in other roles of varying importance.

Disclaimer: I did not watch the whole thing, because I'm one of those people who can turn on a movie that's half over and sit there and contentedly watch it, without really giving a damn what's going on. Besides, it's the life of Mark Twain, it's not like it's going to have unexpected plot twists.


I came in at the part where Samuel Clemens was piloting a Mississippi River boat through the fog and, for some reason, had to steer it around an island in dangerously shallow water. He succeeded in spite of the odds, whilst every passenger and crew member aboard the boat lined up at the rails and peered nervously out into the fog. I do not know why this had to occur – I mean I know the Mississippi River is a fickle mistress but c'mon, whole ISLANDS don't appear out of nowhere, do they? – because I did not see the events that preceded it. I no doubt missed crucial information about young Samuel Clemens's (he wasn't calling himself Mark Twain yet) formative years.

I guess we'll never know.

After piloting the river boat around the island for whatever reason, Twain (I mean, um, Clemens) quit river-boating and went West to make his fortune. He had met a woman, I guess, or at least seen a picture of a woman (I'm unclear on this part, too) and apparently this woman waited for him for some unspecified but probably long period of time while he set about becoming the most famous humorist in the country practically overnight, and with his first-ever publication, which does not make one feel inadequate at all, in any way.

Honestly, I'm happy for him.

As it so happens, I learned a lot about the life of Mark Twain, at least from the time of the Great Island Avoidance to the time of his overly-dramatized death, after which the Shade of Mark Twain stood over his lifeless corpse and wailing daughter, waxing philosophical about the everlasting nature of the soul while tiny imp-like versions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (with high-pitched, screechy little voices) danced around his feet. Somehow, I don't think that last scene was realistic.

I enjoyed the film, I mean, I wasn't riveted or anything, but I thought they did a good job with the makeup and the actor pulled off a passable Mark Twain. Some things disturbed me, however:

  • Twain's wife has the Crazy Eyes. She's all “OMG YOU'RE SO AWESOME AND EVERTHING YOU DO IS JUST F*CKING GREAT LEMME TELL YOU AGAIN HOW GREAT YOU ARE. I DON'T CARE IF YOU SPEND ALL OUR MONEY AND DRIVE US INTO BANKRUPTCY, BECAUSE I HAVE THE CRAZY EYES. ALSO, GO AHEAD AND GO ON A WORLD TOUR TO PAY BACK THE MONEY, I'M KINDA DYING A LITTLE, BUT I'M NOT GONNA TELL YOU, CAUSE THAT WOULD BE SELFISH. I HAVE THE CRAZY EYES.” Granted, women back then were probably like, nicer to their husbands, on account of they might starve to death if they didn't have husbands, and it was Mark Twain after all, although if I was married to Mark Twain I'd be all “WTF just happened, I thought it was 2012” and “Put out that pipe a**hole.”
  • They kind of glossed over Twain's children. We find out that Twain has a son only as the boy lies dying. We just get a brief scene of Twain and Twain's crazy-eyed missus kneeling over a bed and weeping, and then a little arm slips off the side of bed and that's when you know the kid's dead. Actually, for that matter, that's when you know it's a kid. (No, they do not say what he died of. It was diptheria, by the way, and thanks, old Hollywood film, for being unnecessarily mysterious).
  • Twain also had three healthy daughters, but we don't find out about them until several scenes later, when they just randomly walk into his study and ask for a bedtime story. I was all “Whoa sh*t he has children?” I guess they were too busy explaining how he ran his publishing house into the ground. A man's children aren't important, anyway, right?
  • They completely forgot to mention his anti-racist and socialist leanings, but it was 1944 and there was a war on, you know.

They did, however, pack in plenty of those memorable Twain-isms we all know and love, although this Yale librarian says that Twain didn't actually say any of the things that Twain said. Still, I was gratified to hear Twain tell his dying wife, “It's good to know I'd have at least one vote, even if I ran on the Republican ticket.”

Even in 1944.