Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is all boy. Eddie Hodges Huck isn’t. Therein lurks the basic reason this production of the Twain classic is not all it could, and should, be.
There is something artificial and self-conscious about young Hodges’ all-important portrayal of Huck, a lack of actor-character chemistry for which he’s certainly not wholly responsible. An equal share of the rap must be shouldered by director Michael Curtiz, not only for the youthful star’s shortcomings in the role, but for a general slack, a disturbing shortage of vitality noticeable at several key junctures.
James Lee’s screenplay simplifies Twain’s episodic tale, erasing some of the more complex developments and relationships, presumably for the benefit of the young audience. Some of the more sinister, frightening aspects of the story have been forgotten.
On the brighter side of the ledger, there are some stimulating performances and the handsome physical production itself. An extremely colorful and experienced cast has been assembled. These include Tony Randall, whose work as the roguish ‘King’ is a delightful balance of whimsy and threat. And Archie Moore, the light heavyweight champion of the world, who brings the story its only moments of real warmth and tenderness.