It's not one of Tom Sawyer's better days. Aunt Polly catches him stealing jam, he plays hookey to swim with his friend Huck, gets in a fight with a bully and boasts he'll win a Bible before his half-brother Sid by memorising 2000 verses. Sid retaliates by betraying him about playing hookey and the fight, and Tom faces his aunt's wrath once again.
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Tom has to whitewash the fence as punishment. But he turns it into an advantage by tricking the town boys into doing the work and paying for the privilege, mostly in Bible tickets. The fact that he's one ticket short is forgotten when he sees Becky Thatcher. He shows off to gain her attention and love blooms. Huck helps Tom win the Bible.
In a vain effort to miss school, Tom loses a loose tooth to Aunt Polly's drastic measures. He stops to chat with Huck and is late. His punishment is to sit with the girls, his contrivance to get next to Becky. He professes his love and arranges to meet her in the woods. They become engaged, but it turns out to be short-lived and Tom is desolate.
Tom is so mopey that Aunt Polly gives him her dreaded 'Spring tonic'. He recovers and meets with Huck and Jim, the slave, to discuss methods of getting rid of warts. Huck has a dead cat in a sack, so they decide to use that method in the graveyard at midnight. They witness the murder of Dr. Robinson by Indian Joe while Muff Potter, the town drunk, is unconscious. They swear a blood oath never to tell what they saw. They are horrified the next day that Muff has been arrested.
The conscience-stricken Tom meets Joe Harper, disgruntled over unfair punishment, and they decide to run away and become pirates. Huck joins them. Sid almost catches Tom raiding the larder for supplies, but he gets away. Huck, Tom and Joe start down the Mississippi in a battered skiff. They abandon the leaky boat and make for an uninhabited island, where they set up camp.
While Huck, Tom and Joe enjoy life on the island, Aunt Polly and Mrs Harper realise they have run away. Constable Mueller finds evidence that Huck is with them and organizes a search. Soon the boys see the ferry. A small cannon is fired at intervals, a superstition that this will make bodies rise to the surface. The boys realise they are believed drowned and have pangs of conscience. That night Tom leaves a note on bark and starts swimming ashore.
Tom completes his night swim and sneaks home. Hiding behind a couch, he hears Aunt Polly, Mrs Harper and Sid in their sad reminiscences. He learns that a memorial service is planned for Sunday. Tom returns to the island and eventually relays this information to Huck and Joe. As the townsfolk are gathered in church to hear the eulogies, the boys sidle in at the rear. The preacher finally sees them and the reaction is joyful..
Tom and Huck suffer inner conflicts when they realise that the innocent Muff Potter surely will be found guilty of murder and hanged. But they are still bound by their blood oath not to reveal what they saw the night Dr. Robinson was slain in the graveyard. At the trial, things go badly for Muff. Finally the boys can stand it no longer and, at recess, go to see Judge Thatcher. They are called as witnesses and as their story unfolds, Indian Joe, who had testified against Muff, bolts through a window and runs away. Muff is free, but Constable Mueller warns the boys that Indian Joe is a vengeful man.
To get their minds off their problems, Tom and Huck decide to look for buried treasure. They dig near an old 'haunted' house. Tired of no luck, they investigate the house. They are in the attic when Tom looks out and sees Indian Joe and Pard approaching. Frozen with fear, the boys hear Indian Joe and Pard, a hardened criminal; discuss doing one more job, a robbery. They remove a sack of swag from the fireplace and Joe digs around, finding a chest full of gold. He mentions hiding it in den number two, under the cross. They leave and the boys try to figure out where den number two is.
Huck stays behind as Tom and the other school children depart for the caves on a picnic. The venturous Toms leads Becky into the maze of tunnels and soon they are lost. But they are not missed as the kids are herded back to the ferry. In town, Huck stumbles upon Indian Joe and Pard. He follows them and realises they are going to rob Widow Douglas. Huck slips away to warn Constable Mueller.
Tom and Becky are still lost in the cave, their bravery crumbling. In town, the fact that they are missing becomes known and Constable Mueller organizes a search of the caves. Tom sees Indian Joe in the cave and flees with Becky. In the process, he finds a small unknown escape path to the outside. Judge Thatcher orders the cave entrance blocked. When Tom learns of this several days later, he reveals having seen Indian Joe. The cave is re-opened. Indian Joe is dead. Huck and Tom figure the treasure is still in the cave. They search for the cross.
Tom and Huck return with their treasure to learn that the grateful Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson are going to give Huck a home. Judge Thatcher will invest Huck's share of the gold and the boy will become an upstanding member of the community. Tom is pleased, but Huck is dismayed. He'd rather be free, a subject he discusses with Miss Watson's slave, Jim, who sympathizes. They are kindred spirits.
Huck sees a boot print he recognises as that of his cruel worthless Pap. Fearing Pap will be after him for his money, Huck pleads with Judge Thatcher to take his gold. The Judge, suspecting the truth, has Huck sign it over to him as trustee. Pap finds Huck, kidnaps him, and takes him to an isolated cabin. He locks him inside and swears to get the money back for himself. Huck tries to escape before his father returns.
Widow Douglas reports Huck missing. Pap Finn is seen and questioned. He denies involvement, but is ordered out of town anyway. Huck frees himself from the isolated cabin his father had locked him in and ransacks the place to make it look like robbers have kidnapped him. Pap concludes that Huck has been killed, but the boy has fled to uninhabited Jackson Island. Pap rants to townsfolk that Huck is dead. A search fails to find him, and Huck feels he is free at last.
On his island, Huck hears two men, hunters, and assumes they are looking for him. He evades them. In town, a memorial service is held for Huck. Huck sees camp fire smoke, sneaks towards it,and discovers Jim, the slave. Jim is terrified, believing Huck is a ghost. But when he discovers his young friend is really alive, he rejoices. Jim tells Huck he ran away because he heard Miss Watson say she was going to sell him.
Huck and Jim take shelter from a long-lasting storm in a cave. They find a cabin floating on flood waters. They find women's clothing, knives and other things, which they take. Jim also finds a dead man, but doesn't let Huck look at the body. Huck goes ashore, dressed as a girl. He doesn't fool Mrs Loftus, who tells him men are looking for a runaway slave. Huck hurries back to the island to warn Jim. They head downriver fast.
Huck and Jim build a plank 'wigwam' on the raft and Jim hides in it as two men in a skiff approach them. They are looking for a runaway slave. Huck tells them his father is ill with smallpox in the structure. They give Huck money and row away. At night, the raft is run down and sunk by a riverboat. Huck can't find Jim. He believes he was killed. But the rest of the Grangerfords eye him suspiciously, believing he is a Shepherdson, a family with which they are feuding.
Tired, wet and hungry, a desolate Huck comes upon a stately Southern mansion and a pretty young woman who feels sorry for him. But the rest of the Grangerfords eye him suspiciously, believing he is a Shepherdson, a family with which they are feuding.
Huck and his new friend, Buck Grangerford discuss the feud with the Shepherdsons. No one knows why it started, but it must continue. At church Huck becomes the unwitting love courtier for beautiful Sophia Grangerford, bearing a note about a secret tryst. He wanders to the river where the slave, Jack, leads him to the hiding Jim. Huck and Jim have a joyous reunion.
Huck tells Jim he must say farewell to the Grangerfords. At the mansion Huck learns that Sophia has eloped with Harney Shepherdson. The Grangerfords are off to stop the wedding. Huck rushes off to find Buck and stumbles into a pitched battle with the feuders. He tries to help but Buck but the latter motions him away then fires a shot too drive him off. Huck runs, knowing Buck has been killed when the shooting ceases. Huck and Jim start downriver again.
Huck and Jim drifting downriver, discover a derelict canoe. They patch up a small hole with pine pitch and it's serviceable. Huck paddles up a small creek looking for a stray chicken. Two bizarre looking characters, with a posse in pursuit, rush up to him pleading for help. Huck takes them aboard and paddles out of danger. He has met two of the world's most crooked con men, the Duke and the Dauphin.
The Duke and the Dauphin rehearse their outrageous Shakespearean act on the raft. The Dauphin falls in the river and Huck saves him. The show goes on before a sparse audience. It's terrible and the vegetables fly. The next night is worse. The third night a menacing crowd gathers well armed with missiles. Once the money is collected, the Duke, Dauphin, Huck and Jim bolt for the raft, shoving off just before the lynch mob closes in.
Jim warns Huck that he has a 'twitch', which means something bad is about to happen. The Duke goes off to scout a nearby town. Huck looks for food, then, on a premonition, returns to find Jim and the Dauphin gone. In his search, Huck learns that a runaway slave is being held at the Phelps' place. Their scurrilous companions have turned in Jim for reward money.
Tom Sawyer's Aunt Sally Phelps mistakes Huck for Tom. He goes along with it and borrows a wagon to return to the raft to collect his things. En route, he runs into Tom and tells him what happened. Tom says he will become his brother, Sid. In town they see the Duke and Dauphin, tarred and feathered, being boosted out of town on a rail. Then they start to search the Phelps' slave quarters for Jim.
After a ludicrous rescue try, Huck and Tom tunnel beneath the shack in which Jim is held. He reluctantly agrees to wait until the nightfall to escape. In the resultant ridiculous theatrics, the boys even leave a note warning the Phelpses of the escape plan. The boys release Jim at midnight, and, with a posse in pursuit, make for the river and the canoe. In the chase Tom gets wounded in the leg and Huck sets out for a doctor.
Huck finds a doctor who agrees to treat Tom's leg. Huck and Jim are taken back to the Phelps home. The boys tell Aunt Sally who they really are after Tom has been brought in on a stretcher. She refuses to believe it. But Tom's Aunt Polly arrives, confirms the identities and reveals that Miss Watson has freed Jim.