Picks and Pans Review: Mark Twain

UPDATED 01/14/2002 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/14/2002 at 01:00 AM EST

PBS (Mon.-Tues., Jan. 14-15, 8 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

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While chuckling at the many Mark Twain witticisms quoted in this four-hour biography, I got to thinking how the legendary riverboat pilot, writer and raconteur might have poked fun at the corporate self-congratulation that precedes both parts of the documentary: "GM—a proud sponsor of Ken Burns since 1987."

No matter. This masterly film justifies boasting by director-coproducer Burns and his bankrollers. (A companion book, Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography, is reviewed on page 42.) All the elements are in place: a rich supply of archival photos; fluid narration read by Keith David; Kevin Conway as the crackly voice of Twain; and experts—including Hal Holbrook (known for his one-man Twain show) and playwright Arthur Miller—with a genuine feeling for the subject. Whether analyzing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, recounting the author's family sorrows or auditing the business failures that kept him chasing dollars on the lecture circuit, Mark Twain does justice to an American treasure.

Bottom Line: Marked by quality

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