MW's 2017 review is correct in observing that this "Once Upon a Classic" film was aimed at children. In fact, it received two prime time Emmy nominations in children's programming categories. It is thus as a children's program it should be judged. However, MW is a bit harsh in suggesting that it's for "kiddies too lazy to read the book." That seems to imply that anyone who watches a screen adaptation of any literary work is too lazy to read the book on which it's based. Is there, then, something about *this* film that makes people who watch it lazier than those who watch other literary adaptations? If there is, I don't see it. Personally, my hope is that watching this film will help motivate children to read the novel eventually.
I've read Mark Twain's CONNECTICUT YANKEE many times and have seen at least ten films adapted from it-all, that is, except the 1921 silent film that has been lost. This "Once Upon a Classic" version certainly isn't great, but it isn't the worst, either. Given its small budget and brief running time, it's really not bad at all. In fact, it's more faithful to Mark Twain's novel than either the 1931 Will Rogers version or 1949 Bing Crosby version. Crosby's is doubtless the best-known version--thanks to frequent television screenings-and is a lot of fun. However, as a reflection of its source material, it's a travesty. The "Once Upon a Classic" version packs in more of Mark Twain's novel in 60 minutes than either of the much longer Rogers and Crosby versions.
AW is also a little unfair in suggesting that "characters based upon Guinevere and Merlin have different names," and that Tovah Feldshuh's character is "the alternative to Guinevere." Not so. First, Feldshuh plays Sandy (Alisande), a character straight out of the novel who has nothing to do with Guinevere. Granted, this Sandy has little in common with the novel's Sandy, but the same can be said for the Sandy's in the Rogers and Crosby films. Also, this production does not change Merlin's name. As in those earlier films, its Merlin isn't much like Mark Twain's Merlin, but he does serve a similar purpose in acting as a foil against the Yankee.
Speaking of Merlin ... I regard Roscoe Lee Brown's Merlin as one of the best things about the film. When I first saw the film many years ago, I was delighted to find an African American actor cast as the legendary magician. Brown's understated performance lends gravity to the production, along with a mild sense of menace. He's just scary enough to make young viewers uneasy but not scary enough really to frighten them. Incidentally, one of the best reasons for young people to watch this film is to see a black man playing a medieval European to get them used to the idea that skin color needn't define whom actors can portray. Adults watching this film might initially be taken aback by seeing a black Merlin, but after watching the film for a few minutes they're likely to forget what color he is, just as they forget that Richard Basehart is an American and not a medieval Englishman like the King Arthur he portrays.
Because of this film's limited budget, it has crude production values. The cast is small, the sets are often claustrophobic, the costumes are cheesy (the knights' armor looks like it was made out of stiff, silver-painted Styrofoam), and the only special effects I noticed show characters fading in and out. Nevertheless, the film has some praiseworthy qualities. The performances of the lead actors (especially Brown) are good, considering the material they have to work with. Native Bostonian Paul Rudd has the most authentic New England accent of any acting playing Yankee I can recall seeing in a film. Also, the film adapts several scenes from the novel that aren't shown in other adaptations. These include the Yankee's being knocked out by a burly workman in a Hartford factory before turning up in 6th century England. Another is Sandy's cooling him off by pouring a bucket of water down his uncomfortably warm suit of armor.
If you're looking for fidelity to Mark Twain's novel in a CONNECTICUT YANKEE film, you're not likely to find it here or anywhere else. My suggestion, therefore, is to watch this and other films for their own sake and-if you haven't done it before-read the novel. And if you have read the novel ... read it again! It's much more fun than any of the movies. (BTW ...This entire film can be viewed on YouTube.)
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