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Like the previous reviewer I also loved this show during my childhood
it was continuously repeated on BBC during the early to mid 80's. It's
important to emphasis though that this production has far more going for
than mere nostalgia. It really is without doubt the best and most
screen adaptation of both the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn novels and
indeed watching other interpretations have only ever served to highlight
strengths. Most notably the 11 hours running time prove that it's almost
impossible to do justice to either of Twain's most famous novels in a
90-minute feature film.
The casting here is inspired with Huck, Tom, Jim, Aunt Polly and Injun Joe all given definitive portrayals. The Tom-Huck, Huck-Jim relationships are handled magnificently and it's obvious that they all care deeply for each other. Ian Tracey is a great actor and with his trademark subtlety he really breathes the part of Twain's most famous creation, while Sammy Snyders frenzied acting style suits Tom Sawyer down to the ground. For a kid's show Huckleberry Finn and His Friends really is very dark and gritty, particularly in the early episodes where the two fantasy loving youngsters are top of Injun Joe's hit list. Quite a lot of this section is shot at night such as the graveyard murder and one scene that I'll always remember is Huck nervously hiding in a tree above Joe and Pard as they close in to burgle the Widow Douglas. One wrong move and he knows he's dead. It's during these scenes that both Tracey's husky narration, brilliantly used throughout the show, and the unforgettable musical score really adds to the tension and atmosphere. Further such nail biting moments arise when Tom and Huck have to hide in the attic of the haunted house as Joe and Pard search for their treasure and also when Tom and Becky encounter Joe while lost in the cave.
Speaking of the caves the location shoots on this serial are absolutely superb. The costume department do an amazing job and, unlike other productions, Huck and co. really look quite grubby, just like they ought to. Although a previous reviewer points out that this is a West German production, I prefer to think of it as Canadian. It was co-produced by a Canadian company, mainly features Canadian actors and was shot in Canada including the Heritage Village Museum in British Columbia, which really is highly evocative of both the time and place that the novel is set.
The show covers all the famous episodes of both novels with the exception of the Wilkes episode, which is one that I've never been keen on anyway. The main difference between the book and this adaptation is that the series revolves around Huck throughout, even relegating Tom Sawyer to a secondary role during the first half of the show which covers his character's novel. This is no bad thing though bearing in mind how stunning Tracey's performance is. The one great misfortune though is that the series has been strangely forgotten since it left our screens in the late 80's. While the German dub has received an edited video release, the English version is sadly still awaiting one. Perhaps a DVD release might be the key to bringing this back to the public's notice. Until then Huckleberry Finn and His Friends must be content to lie in the vaults with the label of 'forgotten gem' attached to it.
Don't know why they don't show it on tv now for kids. I remember in 1985 i used to get up and have breakfast then run into the living room to watch it. It was on everyday for 6 weeks at 9-30 am every weekday mourning during the summer school holidays along with other programmes such as "silas" and "jack holburn" all 3 of these programmes where producted by a west german companies, but they were all good. The BBC or ITV should show them again, I remember the first time we see tom sawyer in the Huck Finn programmes whit washing aunt polly's fence, class.
I loved this TV series, it made me a fan of both books "The Adventures of
Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". Because of this
I read the books for the very first time in my life and enjoyed them
I thought Ian Tracey's acting in it was SUPERB, he played a likeable older
version of Huckleberry.
The theme song will always be in my mind as well.
Makes me wanna go back to those days and re-live them.
Cool that it was filmed in Canada (where I'm from as well).
Hope this review helps.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are certain TV shows, particularly from the 70s and 80s, that
when watched now, alternate in quality from being very cheesy to just
being plain dull. The sad fact is the myriad of shows from our youth
are best viewed while wearing rose-tinted specs because the truth of
the matter is they were never quite as good as we remembered.
Thankfully, Huckleberry Finn and his Friends does not fall into this
category. Even after a single viewing, one plain fact comes sharply
into focus: this show is indeed a rare beast: it is (Shock! Horror!)
exactly as good as you remember it. For anyone over the age of 30 who
was old enough to remember it on its first run, Huckleberry Finn and
his Friends was required after-school TV viewing. For the approximately
6 months that it was shown, we all sat glued to our TVs on a weekly
basis, religiously following the trials and tribulations of Huck and
Tom as they got up to every manner of mischief. By the time it finished
its run, it left a gaping hole in our schedules that took a long time
The series was clearly a labor of love for the German and Canadian TV companies involved. By amalgamating the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn into one linear series, they gave us, arguably, the definitive version of the story. The casting was pitch perfect. In Sammy Snyders, we got the best possible incarnation of Tom Sawyer. Similarly, in the shape of Ian Tracey and Blu Mankuma respectively, we got the ultimate incarnations of Huck Finn and his escaped slave friend, Jim. Even the somewhat unorthodox decision of adding German actors to the largely Canadian cast gave it something like the surreal impression of reading a novel. The Canadian locations and sets were laudably authentic and assigned the series a unique visual look that versions of the story shot in North America simply didn't have.
And it was suitably scary. Who can forget a desperate and enraged Indian Joe leaping through the courtroom window after Huck and Tom name him as the murderer of the man found dead in the graveyard? Or the tar and feathering of the two con men Huck and Jim give refuge to on board their raft? Or even Huck's hate filled and clearly insane father who returns from obscurity to steal Huck's fortune? For anyone under 10 watching it at the time, these were unforgettable images which only served to whet the appetite. Then there was the memorable theme music: once it got stuck in your head you were guaranteed to be humming it during your homework for the remainder of the evening.
The series still remains riveting viewing even if it does sag somewhat at the point that Huck and Jim get separated after the collision with a steamer destroys their raft. Huck becomes involved with a family called the 'Grangefords' who are involved in a violent feud with another family and things go downhill a bit. Even at this, though, the tone of the series remains dark, resulting in a bleak and downbeat denouement in which the entire family is wiped out in a violent gun battle while Huck can only look on and watch. But things pick up again once he and Jim are reunited on a newly reconstructed raft and set off down the Mississippi. It is here they pick up the aforementioned con men, two eccentric individuals who claim to be of royal blood and have Huck and Jim bowing to their every whim. From here onwards it's non-stop fun and adventure to the very end.
While there have been various versions of the stories since then, this series does the best job of adapting them into a cohesive and logical narrative. It should be required viewing in schools everywhere. However there are a small number of flaws in the actual presentation of the series. On many occasions we see paths made from the tracks of wheels that are clearly belonging to modern cars rather than those of the wagons of the era. Furthermore, the production's somewhat annoying choice to shoot all the night time scenes as 'day for night' and then darken them later in post-production through color timing, is somewhat ill-advised. At no point during these scenes does it ever look authentically like night. What is supposed to be moonlight is always very clearly the light of the sun. Even though this was financially motivated and may have made sense at the time, it does serve as a distraction.
The DVD box set is lovingly presented by Fabulous Films and has an air of nostalgia running throughout with nice menus befitting of such a series. Having said that, the actual picture quality of the DVD could have been better and is quite grainy. Surely, if they're going to go through so much time and effort with the presentation of the DVD, they could have given similar attention to the quality of the source print? Though admittedly this could probably be attributed to the inadequate storage of source materials by the Copyright holders. Still, even after all this, it is rather telling that the picture quality in no way hinders your enjoyment of the series. It still remains absorbing entertainment for anyone who watches it. How many series made during this or any era could boast that?
Clearly the production of Huckleberry Finn and his Friends was one of those 'lightning in a bottle' moments in which they got everything right, from the casting and the script to the locations. While these stories will no doubt be remade time and time again, future filmmakers returning to the well to mine Mark Twain's rich imagination might be best served to observe the template set here. It might eventually be equaled, of course, but it's unlikely it will ever be bettered.
I've watched the series 6 times throughout the years. First in the Netherlands and Belgian TV then the German dubbed version. Hopefully the DVD will also be distributed in the Netherlands. I still have the scrapbook with newspaper and TV-guide cuttings that I started in 1980 and it was useful for my book reports at school. All the girls fell in love with Ian Tracey, no kidding. I remained to follow Ian's acting career, but being over here in The Netherlands,we get to miss most of the news. But hooray for Internet, it's a great help to find articles and photo's. I'm sure that there are a lot of Dutch fans waiting to enjoy the series once more. I know certainly will!
That's saying a bit seeing as adaptations of both books have been hit-and-miss in quality, especially with Huckleberry Finn. Both have very good adaptations(Tom Sawyer with the 1938 film, Huckleberry Finn with the Mickey Rooney film) but none outstanding. Until this 26-part 11-hour show, which is very close to perfect(apart from occasional lapses in dubbing and lip-synching particularly with Aunt Polly). Huckleberry Finn and His Friends is beautifully and authentically filmed with very appropriately chosen locations. The music is lilting and haunting in equal measures depending on the tone of each scene, with a theme tune that will leave you humming for days. The dialogue has the spirit of Mark Twain's way with words and phrasing with some light-hearted humour and some very touching and dark moments. The story is incredibly compelling from the get go and captures the details and spirit of the storytelling of both books, even with the odd omission here and there. It is also one of the few adaptations of either book that not just captures the lighter nostalgic charm as seen in the friendship between Tom and Huck(Becky and particularly Jim also) but also the grimmer, darker aspects, like with Injun Joe(his leap from the court-room is not one to forget) and Pap, doing that while balancing them adeptly. The acting is very, very good especially from a superb Ian Tracey as Huck, and he is supported wonderfully by in particular a spirited Tom, a creepy Injun Joe, the roguish Duke and Dauphin, a brutish Pap, a kindly Aunt Polly and a very dignified Jim. All in all, a wonderful show and the best version of either book, if you haven't read either yet do, Huckleberry Finn is a little hard to get into at first but they're both excellent. 10/10 Bethany Cox
I saw this back in the early 80's on Showtime's "Mark Twain Theater". Since it was a series, there was enough time to capture details in the book very accurately. In fact, it was quite true to the book. It was enjoyable to watch, for young children and adults as well. The young actors were all very good, especially Ian Tracey as Huck Finn. I wish it would be on again so I could show it to my children. As far as I know, it is not available on video.
I remember watching this series through about twice on the BBC when I was
kid in England. Wish I could get it all on video!!
I thought it was a great adaptation. Indian Jo and Pappy were such meanies!!!
I used to come home from school on my lunch hour just to watch that show. It brings back memories just thinking about that time... I hope they show it again soon on tv. The only flaw would probably be that it didn't run long enough.
I enjoyed this series, although never heard much about it outside of watching it. It's well done, entertaining and good for children. The long length of the series allowed a good portrayal of Twain's story.
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