'Huckleberry Finn' Movie: Sentimental Fare Directed by Eventual Murder Victim

Huckleberry Finn movie Lewis Sargent William Desmond Taylor
William Desmond Taylor's Huckleberry Finn with Lewis Sargent.

 
Directed by William Desmond Taylor, Huckleberry Finn stars a fresh, freckle-faced Lewis Sargent as Huck. (Sargent was also featured in another 1920 Taylor production, The Soul of Youth.) Set in the antebellum South, this sentimental retelling of Mark Twain's iconic story revolves around the adventures of Huckleberry Finn after he is kidnapped by his no-good, drunken father (Frank Lanning). When Huck manages to escape, he enjoys his newfound freedom so much that he continues to elude the search party. As a result, everyone thinks he is dead.

Soon, Huck is joined by Jim (George Reed), a slave on the run. Later on, they meet up with a pair of chicken thieves who scheme to cheat three young girls from their father's inheritance.

Taylor, best known today as the murder victim of one of the biggest scandals in Hollywood history, skillfully directs Huckleberry Finn, always moving the action forward, and getting sustained performances from the actors. Frank E. Garbutt's carefully lit cinematography helps to enhance the drama.

Huckleberry Finn was reviewed at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Image: SFSFF.

© Danny Fortune

Note from the editor: William Desmond Taylor was found dead in his Los Angeles bungalow on Feb. 2, 1922. The murder case has never been solved. Rumored suspects included actresses Mabel Normand (presumed to be the last person to see Taylor alive) and Mary Miles Minter, and Minter's mother, Charlotte Shelby.

At the time, Taylor was reportedly in a relationship with costume designer (and later set decorator) George James Hopkins. Among Hopkins' credits are: costume designer for several Theda Bara vehicles, including Cleopatra (1917), Salome (1918), and Kathleen Mavourneen (1919), and set decorator for dozens of movies, ranging from Casablanca (1942) and Mildred Pierce (1945) to Hello, Dolly! (1969) and The Day of the Locust (1975).

HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1920). Scr.: Julia Crawford Ivers; from Mark Twain's novel. Dir.: William Desmond Taylor. Cast: Lewis Sargent, George Reed, Katherine Griffith, Frank Lanning, Gordon Griffith, Esther Ralston, Edythe Chapman, Martha Mattox.

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