A favorite saying of Mark Twain's: "When I was young, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not."
That line is heard (with other familiar aphorisms) in "Mark Twain and Me," a nice new movie premiering tonight (8 o'clock) on cable's The Disney Channel. (Usually a premium service, the network is offering a free preview weekend on participating cable systems; check your company's listings.)
Memory is the appropriate theme for this film, in which Jason Robards adds a pretty good rendering to the archives of acting portrayals of America's most famous writer.
In the first place, the movie is based on the autobiographical book "Enchantment" by Dorothy Quick. It recalls her real childhood friendship with the aging Samuel L. Clemens, struck up during an ocean voyage. (Amy Stewart ably plays the 11-year-old girl in the movie.)
But many fans know that Twain's later life contrasted starkly with the levity conveyed in his early works. Sorrow over the loss of his wife and two daughters, as well as business reversals, left him brooding over his memories.
And "Mark Twain and Me" deals gently with this bittersweet side JTC of Twain's life. In Cynthia Whitcomb's script adapting Quick's book, the young girl becomes a breath of fresh life to Twain and a catalyst for rapprochement with with his youngest daughter, Jean (Talia Shire).
Twain, meanwhile, serves as a maturing agent for Dorothy's budding writing talent and her understanding of life.
Readers of Twain's last writings might quarrel that the movie goes soft on portraying his bitterest depths. But the film nonetheless conveys a loneliness and emotional complexity that is quite affecting.
The movie also touches briefly on the still active controversy over Twain's master work, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Young Dorothy protests the book's banishment from a public library as being unhealthy reading, and Twain himself marches into the place to suggest the ideas in the Bible itself are no less harmful.
FILMS ON ICE -- WBAL-Channel 11 has an interesting special tomorrow afternoon. "The Ice Stars Hollywood Revue" (at 1 o'clock) features skaters Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner depicting scenes from such Hollywood movies as "Star Wars," "Casablanca" and "Dirty Dancing."