Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Dismissed by critics as corny and obvious in 1944, this overlong but sincere biopic looks pretty good when seen today, cliches notwithstanding. Fredric March, 47 at the time, convincingly plays American author Sam Clemens, aka Mark Twain, from his early 20s to his death at 75. In typical movie-biography fashion, every single incident that happens in Twain's life is an INSPIRATION: he hears the depth-indication call "Mark Twain" while working on a riverboat and his face lights up; he engages in a jumping-frog contest against Bret Harte (John Carradine) and comes up with his first popular published story; and so on. Alexis Smith is better than usual in the role of Twain's wife Olivia Langdon, even keeping a straight face while Twain courts her in Fluent Quotation ("Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it", he says during a Hollywood-romance cloudburst). Though the script barely touches upon the dark side of Twain's nature, we are not spared his financial reverses (brought about by bad investments and his struggle to publish Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs. The closing sequence, with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn beckoning the spirit of Mark Twain to heaven as Halley's Comet fills the skies, may seem laughable on paper, but works quite well on film; even director Irving Rapper expressed amazement at the effectiveness of this scene!
writing, adventurer, editor, folklore, contest, deaf-school, gold-rush, riverboat, sign-language