Adventures of Mark Twain (1944): Irving Rapper’s Biopic Starring Fredric March

The Adventures of Mark Twain, Irving Rapper’s simplified biopicture is far from being faithful and too episodic to do justice the life of Mark Twain, the noted figure at its center, scripted by Alan LeMay and Harry Chandlee, based on various materials. 

Bearing strong physical resemblance to Mark Twain, the estimable Fredric March gives a poignant performance as Sam Clemens (Twain) and Alexis Smith is equally adequate as Mrs. Clemens. The whole film is quite lavishly produced and engaging in depicting the young adventurer, who left Hannibal, Missouri to discover and experience the mysteries of the Mississippi River as a navigator.

But the film is too episodic, perhaps trying to cover too much turf.   Mark Twain’s life (1835-1910) spanned the years of America’s coming of age. Even so, early on, there are some good sequences, as the one that explains the origins of the noted writer’s name.

Though Twin’s life is simplified in this version, and several characters are composites, we still get insights into Twin writing some of the greatest and most perennial American novels, such as “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.”   Both books later enjoyed a number of Hollywood screen versions.

This was the second teaming of director Rapper with Fredric after their successful feature, “One Foot in Heaven.” 

Rapper is better known for directing some of Bette Davis’ better melodramas in the 1940s.

 

The critical response to the film was mixed. David Lardner’s review in the New Yorker reflected the opinions of many of his colleagues when wrote: “It’s not that the film is much worse than most cinematized biographies, because it does have its good moments. It’s just that once more biographical inaccuracy is rampant, and once more the best dramatic possibilities have been overlooked.”

 

Oscar Nominations: 3

 

Interior Decoration (b/w): John J. Hughes, art direction; Fred MacLean, set decoration

 

Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Max Steiner

 

Special Effects: Paul Detlesfen, John Crouse, photographic; Nathan Levinson, sound

 

Cast

 

Samuel Clemens (Frederic March)

Olivia Langdon (Alexis Smith)

J.P. Bond (Doanld Crisp)

Steve Gillis (Alan Hale)

Oxford Chancellor (C. Aubrey Smith)

Bret Harte (John Carradine)

Charles Langdon (William Henrey)

Horace E. Bixby (Robert Barrat)

Jervis Langdon (Walter Hampden)

Clara Clemens (Joyce Reynolds)

 

Credits

 

Produced by Jesse L. Lasky

Directed by Irving Rapper

Screenplay: Aan LeMay and Harry Chandlee, based on an adaptation by Alan LeMay and Haroled M. Sherman

Camera: Sol Polito

Editor: Ralph Dawson

Music: Max Steiner

Art direction: John Hughes

F/x: Paul Detlefsen, John Crous

 

Black-and-white

Running time: 130 Minutes