CHECK : Mark Twain and I (1991)
It’s pretty rare that I find something random to look at. I tend towards science fiction, fantasy and anything animated. I’ve had more free time lately, which has allowed me to watch movies and series that I probably would have missed otherwise. A perfect example of this was the night I looked for The Wild on Disney+. They have it, but one suggestion that came to mind caught my attention. Mark Twain and I is a movie I had never heard of, but at least it looked interesting. The description sounded like a Hallmark movie, and in my experience, most Disney productions are better left unsaid. But I was curious anyway, so I checked it out. Let’s see if this is another hidden gem, lost in time, or a phony that needs to stay in the shadows.
Mark Twain and I tells the true story of a friendship between a famous writer and a young girl. Dorothy Quick and her mother are on a boat taking them home when Dorothy meets her favorite writer and personal hero, Mark Twain. The old servant immediately falls for the girl he calls the little rat. The proximity of this strange couple disturbs Twain’s adult daughter Jean, who feels neglected by him. But Dorothy’s influence brings life back into their home and brings father and daughter closer than ever before. When a final tragedy befalls an elderly widower, Dorothy must comfort him.
Talia Scheer is the only Mark Twain actress and I already knew that. She plays Jean, Twain’s spinster, and she’s as good as you’d expect. His interaction with his father is one of the best the film has to offer. Amy Stewart is also very good, as is Dorothy. It’s not one of the best child portraits I’ve ever seen, but any decent child portrait is a win for me. Jason Robards is quirky and charming as Twain – or SLC, as Dorothy, the initials of his real name, calls him. Fiona Reed plays Dorothy’s mother, and she fulfills her limited role. It’s not spectacular or anything, but it’s not a particularly demanding role either. R. H. Thompson plays Albert Payne, a biographer who follows Twain. They have an interesting conversation back and forth, and I really liked the scene where Twain talks to her about his regrets about fatherhood. Mark Twain’s comments about parents and children are related to the larger theme of the film as a whole. Dorothy reminds SLC what it was like to be a kid, and eventually Jean does the same. I like that Dorothy is the catalyst for Twain’s improved relationship with his daughter, not a substitute or replacement. The scene where Dorothy gives SLC her Christmas present was one of my favorites, even if it was a bit presumptuous on her part. I’ve never heard that story before, but I hope it really happened that way.
The costume design in Mark Twain and Me is stunning. The dresses and costumes don’t stand out too much, but in the case of a historical story like this, that’s just as well. The cinematography is pretty standard, and the film isn’t particularly interesting cut, but it’s a TV movie, so that’s to be expected. The dialogue between me and Mark Twain is simple but effective. I doubt it’s a movie you’ll always quote, but it serves its purpose and there are some good sentences in there. The original music for Mark Twain and Me was by Laurence Rosenthal, and I really liked it. It works very well with the musical styles of the time. Like many elements in this film, the score isn’t always great, but it’s serviceable and fits well with what you see on screen.
And I think that’s what Mark Twain and I do best: It’s all right, it’s all right. Most of the technical aspects of this film are useful or good, resulting in a film that is not perfect, but still serious and entertaining. I think I have unrealistic expectations of movies in general. I tried to explain this to my husband and he said: Not every movie you see will change your life. It’s true, and while I can’t speak for others, I think I spend too much time looking for good movies and miss out on some good ones as a result. Not every movie you see will become your favorite or introduce you to a new genre, and that’s okay. If the movie is engaging enough to hold your attention for a few hours and you don’t regret it, sometimes that’s enough. I don’t think there are enough movies like that being made at the moment. The smaller, more intimate stories are often marginalized, if they are created at all. I like big movies with a lot of risk, but those shouldn’t be the only or even most movies. And that’s not to say that small plots are generally weaker than epic battle plots. I’ve said before that I don’t think every concept is destined to be a great movie, or that some ideas are completely bad. For me, it’s a matter of execution. The scene with Mark alone, opening his gift from John, reminds us of this. This film has the modest goal of telling a simple story, and it does that well.
Mark Twain and I are, in a word, fascinating. The performances, music, script and costumes are all good. The relationships between the characters are my favorite part of the movie, especially Mark Twain, Dorothy and Gene. Mark Twain and I is the kind of quiet, calming film you don’t see very often these days. It is superior for its purposes and I recommend you check it out if you are already paying for Disney+. There is also a free version on YouTube, but the quality is terrible.
Location – 8
Action – 8
Control/Assembly – 7
Music/Sound – 8
Charm – 10
Mark Twain and I are, in a word, fascinating. The performances, music, script and costumes are all good. The relationships between the characters are my favorite part of the movie, especially Mark Twain, Dorothy and Gene. Mark Twain and I is the kind of quiet, calming film you don’t see very often these days. It is superior for its purposes and I recommend you check it out if you are already paying for Disney+.
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