Huckleberry Finn

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Huckleberry Finn Movie Poster Image
Musical adaptation doesn't improve the classic tale.
  • G
  • 1974
  • 118 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

While not as effective at this as Mark Twain's novel, the film does attempt to convey the reality of the mid-19th century along the Mississippi. The culture and the prevailing attitudes of the time are revealed through the many characters Huck and Jim meet during their adventure. 

Positive Messages

Through a mix of satire and harsh realism, the institution of slavery is criticized. Friendship and loyalty conquers all. Freedom is an aspiration shared by everyone. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Huck remains loyal to Jim, through thick and thin, and in spite of the prevailing attitudes of their society towards the relations between black slaves and whites. Jim retains his dignity, in spite of the terrible treatment he receives from white people he meets, as he aspires to freedom. 

Violence & Scariness

A battle between two feuding families involves plenty of rifle fire and casualties. Towards the end, as Huck helps Jim escape being captured by slave hunters, one of the slave hunters threatens to shoot one of the captured slaves unless Jim turns himself in, punctuated with a rifle blast pointed in the direction of one of the slaves. 

Sexy Stuff

Conmen tell the townsfolk that their performance of Shakespeare will be for men only, thus implying that something bawdy will happen. During the performance, "The King" does a song-and-dance number in which he turns around, raises his sport coat, and sticks out his rear end. 

Language

Pap says "hell" twice. While used far less frequently than the novel -- and unlike in the novel, Huck never says it -- the "N" word is used several times throughout the film. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Huck's father appears drunk as he stumbles around with a jug, and he wakes up with the shakes. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the "N" word is used several times in this 1974 musical adaptation of Mark Twain's classic novel, though the word appears far less frequently than in the novel. There is some gun play and a few people get hurt in a family feud, plus one mildly bawdy scene. The movie also takes liberties with the original storyline. 

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What's the story?

When Huck Finn's drunken Pap learns that Huck (Jeff East) has a considerable sum of money in the bank, he takes Huck away from the Widow who is "civilizing" him so he can get the money for himself. Huck escapes from Pap and hides out on a nearby island, where he runs into his old friend Jim (Paul Winfield), who is now an escaped slave hoping to cross the river to be a free man in Cairo, Illinois, where he wants to open a dry goods store and make enough money to buy the freedom of his family.

Together, they set out on a journey down the river, where they meet slavehunters and conmen, families feuding and families in mourning, as they both aspire to escape their bad situations.

Is it any good?

This could have been a better-than-average adaptation, despite the fact that it takes some liberties with Twain's novel. While Paul Winfield imbues the role of Jim with a dignity not often seen nor felt in the original nor the many film and TV versions, and Harvey Korman brings a gleeful zest to his role as the conniving conman who claims he's the King of France, the musical numbers feel forced and completely unnecessary.

Older kids would do better reading the original novel. Younger kids would do better waiting until they're old enough to appreciate the satire and realism expressed in the original novel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how slavery is portrayed in the film. How accurately do you think the film reflects the realities of slavery in the mid-19th century?

  • As an adaptation of one of the greatest American novels, how does this film compare with the original? In what ways does it stay true to the story, and it what ways does it veer off? 

  • Talk about the "N" word. How does it make you feel to hear that word? Do you think it's important to use historically accurate language in a movie like this, or should it be removed because it's offensive? Do you feel the same about its use in the book?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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