This month, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened the 1920 version of “Huckleberry Finn.” Directed by William Desmond Taylor, the film presents a grittier version of Mark Twain’s story. Huckleberry Finn, played by Lewis Sargent, projects the rough and tumble character denied to moviegoers used to seeing actors such as Mickey Rooney, Ron Howard, and Elijah Wood play the role. It’s nice to actually see a kid handle the role who looks like he could live on a raft.
This version concentrates on Huck’s inability to adapt to civilization, but spends a great deal of time on two particular episodes in the novel — the first being Huck’s attempt to glean information by dressing up as a girl, and the second being the King and the Duke’s attempt to fleece the Wilks family. Jim and Huck seem more like buddies at the start of the film, while the book unfolds their friendship more gradually. The film also shows the brutality of Huck’s father, leading to Huck’s elaborate plan to fake his own death. After Taylor ties up all the loose ends at the house of Tom Sawyer’s uncle, Huck decides to go back home. In the book, Huck’s inclination is for more travelling and adventure.
William Desmond Taylor, murdered in February, 1922, shows a flair for directing classics from literature. He also directed “Anne of Green Gables (1919),” “Tom Sawyer (1917)” and over 50 other films.