Reasonably Good Film - But Not Twain's Masterful Attack on "Superior Foreign Culture"
Samuel Clemens had made his newspaper reputation on the west coast by being on the scene in Honolulu when tales of a terrible shipwreck occurred. Shortly after he returned to San Francisco, Twain published his classic short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County". Soon he was getting offers from eastern newspapers. He took up one offer for a trip to Europe and the Holy Land (one of the first tourist trips) on board the ship "Quaker City". Sam was to write up his reactions to the sites and sounds of the trip. He left in 1867, and sent back accounts of his visits in the various stops (and how he constantly got under the skins of the tourists guides - when shown the tomb of Columbus in Spain, he asks the guide, "Who was he" and "Is he dead?"). The results of the long trip was finally polished up and published by Clemens as "The Innocents Abroad". It was the first successful book of Mark Twain.
I strongly recommend reading this wonderful travel book, certainly one of the best travel books by an American. Twain actually had a growing theme in the book, and one which still bothers Americans (and to a lesser degree Europeans). He insisted that we should not feel inferior to the Europeans for not having such a history or culture as they could produce. He kept showing the shoddy side of the tourist-produced sites, the commercialism involved, that was frequently ignored by others. He also notes that some sites were not as magnificent as had been suggested. When going through Palestine, he was distinctly unimpressed by the locations, the deserts, and the bodies of water: His comment regarding the sea of Galilee was it was not as wonderful as Lake Tahoe. In short, America had wonderful, even better sites than the old world did. Keep in mind that Twain is not condemning the old world - he is being very realistic.
Twain's book was not the first American book to look with jaundiced eye to Europe. Nathaniel Hawthorne had spent several years in England in the 1850s as our consul in Liverpool, and he wrote a book "Our Old Home" about how bad things were in England. But Hawthorne's book was aimed at one country, and Anglo-American rivalries had been going on since the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Furthermore, Hawthorne's book was a type of answer to Charles Dickens' "American Notes" (1842) where Dicken attacked Americans for the hypocrisy of claiming to be the land of the free while having slavery.
It would not be the last travel book by Twain. In 1872 he would write the sequel, "Roughing It", about the American west. In 1880 he would do "A Tramp Abroad", where he went through northern Europe and France. In 1882 he did what can be considered his best traveled book, "Life On The Mississippi", wherein he wrote from love of the great river that he had served as a riverboat pilot. Finally, due to financial pressures, he did a two year trip around the globe of stage appearances in a one man show. The results were his last travel book, "Following The Equator" (1897), which is his longest travel book - but probably his least read one.
The 1983 television film was part of a two or three year series of films made for Public Television. These versions were not perfect copies of the original stories (for example, "The War Prayer" was tacked on, rather well, to "The Private History Of A Campaign That Failed"). Here the story's truthfulness (the hiring of Sam/Mark to go on the Quaker City trip) was mingled with a romance he gets into with fellow tourist Julia Newell. This did not happen. Nor was there a resulting triangle with Sam's friend, ship's doctor "Doc". And the Captain of the ship did not try to sabotage Twain's contract by withholding the mailing of his copy to his newspaper.
The acting was very good, in particular Craig Wasson as Sam/Mark, Brooke Adams as Julia, and David Ogden Stiers as the really nice fellow "Doc" (miles away from Major Winchester). As the Captain of the "QUAKER CITY", Barry Morse was excellent as a religious bigot and hypocrite. Also of note was Gigi Proietti as "Fergusson", the nickname Twain gives to all the various befuddled tourist guides he meets in the trip - Proietti played all of them, constantly wondering what he had deserved to have this crazy "dumb" American as his current client.
Not as wonderful as the book, but an enjoyable film to see before you read the book.
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