This dramatized biography of the great humorist is economical with the truth and stretches the story of his life while catching some of his spirit.
Born on November 30, 1835 when Haley's comet came, Samuel Clemens grows up in Hannibal playing by the Mississippi River. He works in a print shop but gets in trouble writing a funny story, runs away on a riverboat, and learns to be a skilled pilot. Sam (Fredric March) goes west with Steve Gillis (Alan Hale) to look for gold, carrying a photo of the sister of Charles Langdon (Bill Henry). In Virginia City they see a reporter killed, and Sam works for the newspaper. Steve and Sam catch a frog and bet against Bret Harte (John Carradine) in a jumping contest. Sam writes a story about it and signs it Mark Twain. The Civil War begins, and Sam goes back to the Mississippi River. J. B. Pond (Donald Crisp) looks for Mark Twain and eventually finds he is Sam. He arranges lectures, and Mark introduces himself and speaks humorously and for tolerance. Sam meets Charles again and his sister Olivia Langdon (Alexis Smith), and they invite him to visit. Their father tells Mark to leave, but he falls off the carriage and pretends to hurt his ankle so that he can stay. Mark tells Olivia that he loves her, and she likes him too. Her father reluctantly approves the match and gives them a house.
Mark's books Innocents Abroad and Roughing It are popular. When their son dies, Olivia urges Mark to write about boys, and he creates Tom Sawyer. William Dean Howells invites him to speak at Whittier's birthday party; but Mark makes fun of Longfellow, Emerson, and Oliver Holmes and is castigated in the press. Olivia tells him that Huckleberry Finn is great. Mark takes her to see a typesetting machine and says he is starting a publishing company. He keeps writing to raise money for his business expenses. A top financier warns him not to publish Grant's memoirs. Mark visits the ailing Grant and advises him not to sell his writing to others for only ten percent royalty. Feisty Mark gets angry at the housekeeper and then tells a story to his three daughters about a woolly bear who puts out a fire and is ailing in wintertime. Mark publishes Grant's Memoirs and gives most of the money to the Grants.
Eventually Mark Twain faces bankruptcy and plans a world lecture tour to earn the $250,000 he owes. He says goodbye to his wife and daughters. Mark says that Australia is right-side up too. In India he speaks of the value of brotherhood, what there is of it. He says that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. Ill Olivia waits for him in Florence and says he is great. While Mark sings, she dies. At Oxford honorary degrees are given to Kipling and Twain. Aged Mark sits up in bed. His daughter sees Haley's comet and cries. Mark's spirit leaves his body to join the boys.
Unfortunately some of this story is inaccurate and though
his life and wit are sketched, much of this man's brilliance is
missed. Twain was admired for not declaring bankruptcy and paying
off his creditors.