Huckleberry Finn and His Friends (1979–1980)
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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.
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.
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 thought it was a great adaptation. Indian Jo and Pappy were such meanies!!!