Huck Finn "One-take Scene"
First, an explanation of the title: It's become a convenient label for discussing this scene because of the director's commentary about it on the Huck Finn DVD. He said that for a scene like this one, he'd expect to need over a dozen takes when using an actor the age Elijah was at the time--just to get the dialogue to "patch together" to make one acceptable scene. When it came to shooting this scene, there was a time crunch; the position of the sun was going to allow time for only one take. This movie looks like one that was made on a much bigger budget than it was because it utilized a lot of natural lighting and real locations, so the sun was an important consideration.
It's not hard to guess the end of the story (for those who know anything about Elijah). The scene was set up, the crew shot one take, and that's what we've got in the final movie. The director said, if given more time, he would have done some cutting, close-ups of the characters' faces, etc. Instead, we get one continuous camera shot--the camera zooms in and out a bit, but that's it. At the very beginning of the scene, there are close-up shots of Jim and Huck (I've put one in the left-hand frame of this page, of Huck's first sight of the whip marks on Jim's back). But everything else posted on these two pages--I tried to condense it into one, but just couldn't--is from that one continuous camera shot.
I've inserted the dialogue at its approximate locations in the scene. Jim has two lines. The rest is almost a soliloquy by Huck as he works out his conflicted feelings. But, of course, Elijah was doing more than remembering his lines; he was also delivering them as the character would have, through some pretty good acting. If I had to find one quibble, it would be that Elijah delivers his lines more "on mark" than he usually does. (Turn and say the line. Stop here and say the line.) But considering it's the first take, that would be expected. And I've watched this scene numerous times and never noticed this "flaw" until now--while trying to figure out where to insert the dialogue for these pages.
It's only fair to add that looking at this scene so closely has greatly increased my appreciation of Courtney B. Vance's acting, too. Those two lines are the least of what he does here, as is obvious in the screencaps. From his movement, we get a sense of the physical pain Jim is in, and from his blank expression the emotional pain. He doesn't look up until Huck begins to apologize.
Touching hasn't been part of the relationship between Jim and Huck, but Jim takes the risk of reaching out when he sees Huck begin to break down--even though he almost has to use Huck to pull himself up, because of his physical condition. And, not to say that Jim doesn't care about Huck, but from the tenderness that comes across his face as he holds him, I have to imagine that Jim is thinking of his own children.
"It weren't my fault."
"If you think I feel bad, well... well, you're wrong."
"If you think I'm going to apologize to a slave..."
"...and a runaway slave at that, well... ha!"