Roughing It (2002)



Director:  Charles Martin Smith.

Starring:  Robin Dunne (Young Samuel Clemens), James Garner (Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain), Adam Arkin (Henry), Eric Roberts (The Foreman), Ned Beatty (Slade), Adam Storke (Seth), Charles Martin Smith (Platt), Jill Eikenberry (Livy Clemens), J.D. Nicholsen (Higbie), Wayne Robson (Mr. Ballou), Blu Mankuma (Johnston), Winston Rekert (The Stranger), Greg Spottiswood (Orion Clemens), Stephen E. Miller (Higgins), Brian Stollery (Beamis).

Young Mark Twain out West during the "Gold Rush" days.


The movie starts out with Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) giving a speech to his daughter's graduating class.  Suzie Olivia Clemens is proud of her father, but is a little concerned that he might not fully behave himself.  One of her classmates tells her that her father said that Mark Twain will give a humorous speech but not one filled with good advice.  She bets Suzie the gold coin in her pocket that Samuel Clemens won't say anything meaningful.  Suzie accepts the bet. 

Samuel Clemens launches into a speech about his early days in the American West when he was just a young man around the age of those graduating this very day.  He says that he was in the Confederate army for about two weeks, but knew quickly that he was not cut out to be a soldier.  He ran away out west.  He accompanied his older brother Orion who was heading out to Carson City, Nevada Territory to begin his job as the new secretary to the Governor of the territory.   Clemens mentions that he was going out west for three months, but that the actual stay lasted seven years.

Orion and Samuel traveled by stage coach for three weeks going about a hundred miles in a day.  Samuel is fascinated at the sight of a sod house with a cow on top eating some of the grass.  One day a rider for the Pony Express swiftly passes by their coach window.   A fellow passenger frightens the Clemens brothers with tales of a vicious killer named Slade.  The tale of Slade was so well known that the passenger is able to stop a robbery of the stage coach by frightening off the robbers by telling them that they are in the territory of Mr. Slade and he wouldn't take kindly to the robbery.  Later they actually run into Mr. Slade who seems to have a rather bad temper. 

At Carson City Samuel parts company with his brother.  Samuel heads farther west.  As he runs short of money he accepts a job with a survey crew for the railroad.  He is forced to play poker with a bad man with a worse temper and finds himself hooked on gambling as he starts winning big time.  In fact, Clemens is so obsessed with gambling that he and the bad man play their final hand even though the saloon fills up with flood water.  Clemens wins just as the building and the two players are swept away by the flood waters.  Clemens is able to survive with the help of one of his colleagues, Mr. Higbie.  Mark Twain tells the class that he had learned that he could survive an obsession and that the force of the flood waters helped him break the power of the obsession.

Samuel joins in with Higbie to go prospecting.  He trusts Higbie because the man says he is a very experienced prospector.  They run into an old friend of Higbie's, Mr. Ballou, and he joins with them in their prospecting endeavor.  The adventure soon becomes an episode of the Three Stooges.  Higbie tells his buddies that they can easily cross a stream, but the waters turn out to be deep and the men and horses are soon swimming for their lives.  They get their horses back, but they lose half their supplies paid for by Samuel's poker-supplied grubstake.  It then starts to snow.  Higbie is confident he can bring the men to a safe cabin and he does find some tracks of horses that he and his buddies follow.  But after a long circular trip, it finally dawns on Higbie that he has been following their own horse tracks.  The men try to start a fire but the matches were lost in the river debacle.  They finally try to start a fire with the sparks from a fired revolver, but this only results in the horses running away in fright.  The men lean against a tree and resign themselves to death as the snow piles up over them.  But the next morning, Samuel wakes up to the surprise that he and the others are still alive.  The snow storm was just a freak of nature and the snow had already started to melt considerably.  Another surprise is that they are only about 30 feet away from a cabin and a great breakfast. 

Samuel sets out by himself.  He simply starts walking.  He comes to a well-tended homestead and meets a man named Henry who puts Samuel up for awhile.  Henry wants Samuel to meet his wife who will soon be coming home from a visit to her mother.  While Samuel waits and works on the homestead with Henry, time passes.  A huge mountain man comes to visit and he tells Henry that they will have a big home-coming party for Henry's wife.  During the party, Henry passes out and is put to bed.  Then the mountain man tells Samuel that Henry's wife disappeared sixteen years ago and no one really knows her fate. So every year on the anniversary of the date on which the wife was supposed to have returned from visiting her mother, they hold a big party, the mountain man puts laudanum in Henry's drink, Henry passes out and the men put Henry to bed.  The next morning Henry is able to go on with his life until the next anniversary.   Samuel says good-bye to Henry and continues his journey. 

Samuel runs into Higbie and Ballou again and he agrees to prospect with them.  A man shows up saying that he hurt his leg and wants to stay with the three men for awhile.  But it turns out that the hombre is a con-man who tricks Samuel and the other two.  He diverts the three men and then he and a partner take off with their wagon, supplies and horses.  Samuel is able to grab a hidden rifle and pistol and chase after the two robbers.  He is able to quickly catch up with the bad men as the wagon becomes stuck.  Samuel starts firing at the two men and they run off, leaving their plunder to the original owners.  Mark Twain tells his audience that he learned a valuable lesson about not being too naive. 

The three men wind up working at someone else's mine, but this is something with which none of the three are happy.  Samuel has it the worst because he has to earn his money by moving dirt and rocks around.  Fortune smiles on the men.  Mr. Ballou, through his knowledge of the local rocks, is able to figure out that there is a side vein of gold going off from the main line.  The men plot how they can get ownership of the property.  Fate intervenes, however, because Samuel has to rush back to Carson City to take care of his very sick brother.  (He leaves a note to that effect for his two friends.)  After about two weeks, Samuel is able to return.  But he returns to bad news.  His two buddies had just read his note.  Apparently, they went off with a man who said there was a sure thing just waiting for them to take it.  They had left a note to that effect for Samuel without seeing Samuel's note.  So neither Samuel or his two partners filed the proper papers to obtain ownership of the side vein.  Instead, Samuel's boss filed the necessary papers and got ownership of the vein.  Instead of being rich, Samuel returns to the reality of his near poverty. 

But the story is not a completely sad one, for just as this very low point, the local newspapermen inform Samuel that they liked his letter to the editor so much that they want him to work for them on the paper.  Samuel swoons and from the ground shouts:  "I'm rich!  I'm rich!" 

This ends the graduation speech of the famous writer Mark Twain.  Suzie wins the bet with her school chum as the young lady hands over her gold coin to Suzie.  Suzie is very proud of her father and hugs him a great deal.


Pretty good movie.  It does have its humorous turns of fate, but at times the story drags a bit.  The Three Stooges tale seemed especially long.  The characters of Higbie and Ballou were funny.  James Garner as Mark Twain was good and Robin Dunne as the young Samuel Clemens was o.k. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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