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The Adventures of Mark Twain

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Frederic March, Alexis Smith
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The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944), starring Fredric March, Alexis Smith

Review of The Adventures of Mark Twain

I’ve often said that Hollywood takes enormous liberties with biographies.  That’s true in The Adventures of Mark Twain as well.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a very enjoyable movie.  It is, for a variety of reasons.  It has a good pacing, interesting cinematography, and a compelling rags-to-riches story.

But much of the success goes to the performance of Fredric March as Mark Twain.  He is a first-class actor, and never more so than here.  He immerses himself in the role, in his various stages of life.  As a young man who first reaches fame writing about a “celebrated jumping frog”.  As a young man courting a young woman.  A man who reaches too far, and goes into bankruptcy.  An older man, who resumes the lecturing circuit, which he hates, to pay back his creditors.  As an old man, who loses his wife of many years.

And the rest of the cast also turns in excellent performances – it’s not a one-man show.  The Adventures of Mark Twain is excellent entertainment, that sacrifices historical accuracy.

Cast of characters in The Adventures of Mark Twain

  • Samuel Clemens / Mark Twain (Fredric March, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).  The title character, who turns in a wonderful performance.
  • Olivia Langdon Clemens (Alexis SmithGentleman Jim).  The young lady who falls in love with, and marries, Mark Twain.  She’s a steadfast, supportive life partner to the very end.  Well acted.
  • J.B. Pond (Donald CrispHow Green Was My Valley).  The man who comes to Nevada looking for Mark Twain.  But since nobody else knows Sam Clemens by that pen name ….
  • Steve Gillis (Alan Hale, The Adventures of Robin Hood).  Sam’s best friend in Nevada, who gets him involved with the jumping frog contest.  By “borrowing” Sam’s money from its hiding place.  A very enjoyable character.
  • Bret Harte (John CarradineThe Howling).  The opponent in the frog-jumping contest.  A small role, well played.
  • Oxford Chancellor (C. Aubrey Smith, Five Came Back).  A minor role, almost a cameo.  The person who grants Mark Twain his honorary degree from Oxford.

Editorial review of The Adventures of Mark Twain courtesy of

He was a riverboat pilot, reporter, penniless prospector, Civil War dropout, would-be entrepreneur, loving family man, world traveler, pomposity burster and raconteur. It turns out the man who created adventures for Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and a Connecticut Yankee led a mighty adventurous life himself.

“Truth is a very valuable thing,” says Fredric March’s Mark Twain. “I believe we should be economical with it.” And that sets the tone for what follows: a lovingly crafted Hollywoodized biopic tracing the immortal humorist’s life from Hannibal boyhood to Big River exploits to global literary lion and more. Riverboat’s a-comin’, hop aboard – with Tom, Huck, Jim and above all, Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

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