Picks and Pans Review: American Playhouse: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

updated 02/10/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/10/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

PBS (Mon., Feb. 10, 9 p.m. ET)


Huck Finn, the original unkempt kid, has been made here into a souvenir, the kind you'd find in one of those quaint, allegedly historical gift shops that sell scented colonial candles, maple-sugar candy and wrought-iron toilet-paper holders. "I been civilized," Huck would sneer. In this four-hour mini, his story is stretched too thin; like mud under the Mississippi, the plot moves so slowly it doesn't appear to move at all. The director loses the excitement of Mark Twain's tale because he doesn't play with your nerves. It's not hard: You show Huck and Jim resting by the river, then slave hunters' hounds closing in, then Huck and Jim still unaware, then the dogs yet closer. Instead, the director shows you Huck and Jim sitting. Then, out of nowhere, you hear dogs yelping. Then you see Huck and Jim float away. You're never given the chance to get nervous for them. You're robbed of the drama. The director also fails to make his impressive stars a part of the story. Frederic Forrest, Jim Dale, Lillian Gish, Richard Kiley, Geraldine Page, Sada Thompson, Barnard Hughes and—surprise!—Butterfly (Gone With the Wind) McQueen appear not as supporting actors but as separate acts; while they're on the screen, Huck and Jim are all but ignored. Even the Mississippi loses its majesty, becoming little more than something to reflect sunsets. Samm-Art Williams does his best to bring Jim alive. Newcomer Patrick Day tries even harder to give Huck back the adrenal gland that the direction and script took away. The kid steals the show. It's a pity he has to.

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