Musical Monday: Huckleberry Finn (1974)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Huckleberry Finn (1974) – Musical #583

United Artists

J. Lee Thompson

Jeff East, Paul Winfield, Harvey Korman, Gary Merrill, David Wayne, Arthur O’Connell, Natalie Trundy, Odessa Cleveland, Lucille Benson, Kim O’Brien, Jean Fay, Ruby Leftwich, Linda Watkins

A musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s story of “Huckleberry Finn.” Huckleberry Finn (East) is an orphan after his father (Merrill) is dead and is living with two elderly women. Huck’s father turns out not being dead and kidnaps him after hearing Huck found some treasure and he wants the money. Huck stages his death and travels down the river with Jim (Winfield), a slave running to freedom.

-Screenplay and music by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman
-Produced by Readers Digest
-Follows Tom Sawyer (1973), which was also had a script and music by Richard and Robert Sherman.
-Roberta Flack sings the title song, “Freedom,” but does not appear in the movie.
-The film had several issues throughout filming, including producer Arthur Jacobs died from a heart attack, Robert Sherman had knee surgery during filming, and Roberta Flack was unhappy that the opening song had a full orchestra when she only wanted a single guitar.
-An original soundtrack was never released due to the issues with Roberta Flack’s song.

Paul Winfield and Jeff East in “Huckleberry Finn” (1974)

Notable Songs:
-“Someday, Honey Darlin'” performed by Paul Winfield.
-“Rotten Luck” performed by Gary Merrill
-“Cairo, Illinois” performed by Jeff East and Paul Winfield
-“Royalty!” performed by Harvey Korman and David Wayne
-“Freedom” performed by Roberta Flack (opening and closing credits)

My review:
There are some musicals I go into not expecting much, but I watch them out of a strong curiosity. When I saw “Huckleberry Finn” listed to air on Turner Classic Movies in December, I had never heard of it so I felt inclined to watch it.

The film met my low expectations. On paper, it should be great! A star-studded cast and with songs and a screenplay written by the great Sherman Brothers. Richard and Robert Sherman found songwriting fame while working for Walt Disney in the 1950s and 1960s. Their prolific career included musicals such as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Aristocats. Their song credits include “It’s a Small World (After All)” and several songs for Annette Funicello like “Tall Paul.”

But one the Sherman Brothers left Disney and their career drew into the 1970s, the catchiness of songs stayed the same but the charm and enjoyment were gone. I recently had reviewed their work in the film The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976), and since Huckleberry Finn (1974) was near this film, I expected the same quality.

Like “Slipper and the Rose,” Huck Finn had mediocre music and it dragged. Huck Finn had a lot of music. The movie only had nine songs but the first half of the movie has song after song.

“Huckleberry Finn” was made in response to the successful film “Tom Sawyer” (1973) starring, Johnny Whitaker and Jodie Foster. However, “Huckleberry Finn” did not do as well.

Huckleberry Finn has that film quality to only be emulated in the 1970s. Set in the country with a goldish haze like lots of dirt is being kicked up.

I think the most interesting part of the movie is the small role Gary Merrill plays because he even sings. Much of the acting, especially from our lead Huck Finn played by Jeff East, is pretty terrible.

I would say “Huckleberry Finn” (1974) was disappointing but then again, I didn’t expect much.

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