Steamboats and Mark Twain in the Movies


Seven screen captures from the English dubbed U.S. release on DVD of the 2012 German film adaptation of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huck Finn ("Die Abenteuer des Huck Finn") a sequel to "Die Abenteur des Tom Sawyer" made a year earlier with quite a few of the same cast members.

Directed by Hermine Huntgeburth
Screenplay by Sascha Arango

Christian Steyer portrays Mark Twain. 2 frames of the actor in make up are in the upper left and upper right on this composite of 9 frames including the Main Title.

Leon Seidel plays Huckleberry Finn and Jacky Ido plays Jim

The Danube River in Romania doubles for the Mississippi River. The sternwheeler in the six frames was apparently remodeled from a 20th century Danube barge or freighter. Instead of being "amidships" the pilot house on the hurricane roof it is situated at the stern of the boat. In most of the old American sternwheelers the "water closets" (toilets) were located at the stern so the paddlewheels could do the "flushing." It's rather ironic here that the pilot house is by implication also the "outhouse" on this boat.

The plot of the movie diverges considerably from Mark Twain's novel. After escaping from his crazy "Pap" Huck and the Jim are pursued by not only Pap but by some slave hunters who in the novel were three criminals that Huck and Jim had seen aboard the wreck of the steamboat "Walter Scott." At the end of the movie Jim is shot by one of the slave hunters while he is escaping from them and Huck helps the injured Jim get aboard this steamboat where Mark Twain just happens to be a passenger. Twain is not only a writer in this movie, he's also a surgeon and able to extract the bullet from Jim.

An epilogue says that Jim escapes up the Ohio River, gets a job and is able to save enough money to buy his wife and children who are slaves in the South.

The movie is heavy on crude humor (especially flatulence and noisy bowel movements) and violence which includes the "Dauphin" hitting the "Duke" in the face with his fist at the least provocation. The majority of the adult white males are coarse racist rednecks and the only two sympathetic white males are Becky's father Judge Thatcher and Mark Twain who is anachronistically middle aged as if he had been somehow teleported to the 1840's from the 1880's where Huck volunteers to tell Clemens all about his adventures that had preceded this closing sequence on the steamboat where Clemens/Twain doctors Jim and gets him on the path to recovery.

This English dubbed, U.S.A. formatted DVD is available on eBay from the_nile_usa.

recent acquisitions

From the DVD of Warner Bros.' 1934 film Mandalay are 6 frame captures of the Sacramento River near Stockton with the Capital City playing the "Sirohi" on the Irrawaddy River in Burma. Palm trees were brought in to give the illusion of an exotic locale and Asian extras playing "the natives." The second frame at center right is of the interior of the Capital City's engine room, where the pitman arm was moving and has just gone out of frame at the bottom.

Warner Bros. used the footage whose first frame is in the lower left left corner as the main title background for The Adventures of Mark Twain in 1944.

John Fryant kindly reminded me that the film "Mandalay" was probably inspired by the following lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Road to Mandalay":

"Come you back to Mandalay, where the old flotilla lay. Can't you hear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?"

The route the steamboat "Sirohi" travels in the movie "Mandalay" is from Rangoon to Mandalay.


Interior of a pilot house on an MGM sound stage for their 1960 version of HUCKLEBERRY FINN starring 13 year old Eddie Hodges wearing his "cabin boy" costume as "Huck" at the pilot wheel under the supervision of the 82 year old Scottish actor Finlay Currie as "Captain Sellers" in an onboard steamboat scene that was not in Mark Twain's HUCK FINN but created by screenwriter James Lee, inspired no doubt by the relationship of cub pilot Sam Clemens with Captain Horace Bixby in Twain's 1883 memoir LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI.

steamboats in movies

Dickie Jones as cub pilot Sam Clemens and Robert Barrat as Horace Bixby in the The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944). The kid is 13 years old but Clemens was actually 22 years old when he met Bixby and discussed learning the river under him. The movie perpetuated the myth that Clemens went straight from Hannibal into the river trade but he was actually 17 when he left Hannibal then spent five years as a journeyman printer before tackling boat piloting. I think they looked at the illustrations in Life on the Mississippi and saw that the cub was represented as a "mere boy" so it was easier to skip over the printer years and cut to the chase and have him larnin' the river.

steamboats in movies

Frederic March as Sam Clemens steamboat pilot in The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944). Clemens didn't have a mustache at this point in his life (late 1850's/early 1860's) but instead wore lambchop sideburns. The fictional boat this pilot house is supposed to be on is called the Queen of Dixie in the movie.

steamboats in movies

Set still for the "SALON" of the "QUEEN OF DIXIE" for that 1944 Warner Bros. biopic "The Adventures of Mark Twain." Nice gingerbread, long and deep - doesn't look like they cheated with mirrors or forced perspective tricks.

steamboats in movies

Mickey Rooney Huck Finn

Warner Bros. is now selling a DVD of the 1944 Frederic March "biopic" The Adventures of Mark Twain.

Attached 4 screen captures of the steamboat model. It looked best at night in the fog in silhouette.

The stills of the FLORA on the Sacramento River above are from the 1939 Mickey Rooney version of Huck Finn which is also available from Warner Bros. For more info.:
Warner Bros. Official Online Store
Adventures of Mark Twain, The (EST-MOD) $19.95
Adventures of Huck Finn, The (1939)(MOD)
Shipping & Handling: $5.95


Three little contemporary riverboats were remodeled to play era steamers for Disney's 1993 adaptation of HUCK FINN filmed here at Natchez, Mississippi.

"Phelps Landing" refers to Tom Sawyer's Uncle Silas Phelps whose Arkansas farm is nearby and where the captured Jim is kept prisoner prior to the happy ending of Mark Twain's novel upon which the movie is based. As in several other adaptations of HUCK FINN, Tom Sawyer does not appear in this film.

The big New Orleans excursion steamboat NATCHEZ also makes a cameo appearance early in this movie.

The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993)
Written and Directed by Stephen Sommers
Elijah Wood as Huck
Courtney B. Vance as Jim

find this item at


lobby card for Disney's HUCK FINN

This International lobby card for Disney's HUCK FINN with the sternwheeler BONNIE BELLE.

recent acquisitions

4 extra frame captures for you from the Warner Bros. Adventures of Mark Twain (1944) DVD.

Top 2 frames are of the wrecked scale model of the "QUEEN OF DIXIE."

These were from a scene of a contrived story that never actually happened where lecture promoter Major Pond pursues "Mark Twain" from Virginia City to the Mississippi River in order to persuade Sam Clemens to give a lecture based on his humorous stories.

The bottom 2 frames are of a toy steamboat that Mark Twain (Frederic March) buys from toy store proprietor (Frank Darrien) as a gift for his son Langdon Clemens. A contrived "three hanky" scene follows when Langdon passes away at only a year and half old before he can see the toy boat. In the movie it is implied that Langdon is an infant rather than a toddler.


Mystery photo of make up for Adventures of Mark Twain

This is a puzzling still from Warner Bros' "Adventures of Mark Twain." It was apparently taken to test an early version of one of the make up concepts and wardrobe choices for Frederic March as Sam Clemens at around the age of 40.

This picture and some live action footage taken with of this was included in the movie, having been taken on a soundstage set that replicated Sam's study in Elmira, N.Y. The hair style of the wig is "off model" and there is a gap between the left and right halves of the mustache which wasn't characteristic of Clemens. The face looks like it could have possibly belonged to someone "doubling" for March.

The crude clay pipe came from a period earlier than the 1870's. The velvet smoking jacket is a bit overly plush for "Mark Twain" was too tight and the sleeves too long.

The little model steamboat is the same one that in the movie Clemens bought in a toy store for his nineteen month old son as seen in the screen captures.

Russian HUCK FINN 1972 six screen captures

Sovsem propashchiy "Hopelessly Lost" (1972)

Russian film adaptation of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Directed by Georgi Daneliya
Screenplay by Georgi Daneliya & Viktoriya Tokareva
Filmed on the Dnieper River, Russia
Release Date: 1974 (in Finland)

Roman Madyanov...Huck ("Gek")
Vakhtang Kikabidze...Duke
Evgeni Leonov...King
Feliks Imokuede...Jim


Attached two screen captures from the opening scene of the 2011 German motion picture production of TOM SAWYER with Tom (in straw hat) and Huck running a "foot race" against each other and a sternwheel steamboat in the distance on the Danube doubling for the Mississippi. The steamboat must have been created digitally, wholly or in part to achieve the action.

Steamboats with smokestacks "aft" of the pilot house were the exception rather than the rule on the early boats that plied the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Many years ago Fred Way published a black and white photo of Robert Hagemann's amazing painting of the JACOB STRADER 1853-1866 in the REFLECTOR quarterly.

I was able to contact Bob Hagemann and he kindly sent me a color slide of his painting that I scanned and finessed into the bottom image under the photos of Tom and Huck "racing" the distant boat.

Of course the STRADER was a sidewheeler rather than the sternwheeler in the Tom Sawyer movie but otherwise the position of the stacks is about the same. The STRADER had a cylindrical pilot house which was likewise out of the ordinary, the one in the movie has a conventional "box" shape.


1hour 49 minutes

Released 17 November 2011 (Germany)

Directed by Hermine Huntgeburth

Screenplay by Sascha Arango from Mark Twain's novel

Louis Hofmann ... Tom Sawyer

Leon Seidel ... Huck Finn


An interesting still from THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1944)

Elaborate cabin interior set on a Warner Bros. soundstage of the fictional steamboat QUEEN OF DIXIE circa 1860/61.

At center wearing a cap with shiny visor and a plaid vest is Frederic March as Samuel Clemens, steamboat pilot.

To the left of March is Bill Henry as Charles Langdon, brother of Olivia Langdon, who would eventually marry Clemens in 1870. Clemens would not actually meet Charles until 1867 aboard the trans-Atlantic steamer QUAKER CITY en route to Europe and the Holy Land.

The smooth character raising the cards in the right foreground is Harry Worth as a Gambler.

Langdon (commenting to a Pickpocket about the gambler's obvious swindle: "Incredible, permitting themselves to be robbed like this."

Between Clemens and the Gambler is Ernie Adams as the Pickpocket who steals Langdon's wallet and other possessions. Clemens witnesses the theft and gets Langdon's property back from the thief.

The boat's Bouncer approaches and asks "Can I help you Mr. Clemens?"

Clemens - "Too bad we haven't got a cure for this fellow's manners, maybe drowning will help."

Bouncer (taking the culprit away) - "All right, cast off."

Have not yet identified the actor in the foreground on the left who is playing the Gambler's "mark."


All captions provided by Dave Thomson, primary contributor and historian.