Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

DAVID COPPERFIELD (1935)


DAVID COPPERFIELD (aka The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger/1935). Director: George Cukor.

" They seem rather obstinate oysters!" -- Aunt Betsey.

After his beloved mother's death, little David Copperfield (a wonderful Freddie Bartholomew) finds himself at the mercy of his hated stepfather, Murdstone (Basil Rathbone) and his equally loathsome sister, then sent off to work in a factory where he is befriended by the benevolent Micawber (W. C. Fields, pictured). Then the poor boy has to make his way on foot, penniless, to the home of his peppery Aunt Betsey (Edna May Oliver). The problem is that when David grows to manhood and is played by the relatively colorless Frank Lawton, he becomes a supporting character in his own story, which on the whole is full of too many characters that you just don't care about. For the most part, the acting is excellent, however, with Oliver and Rathbone as good as ever -- not to mention Jessie Ralph as nurse Peggotty -- and Roland Young making a striking Uriah Heep. Lewis Stone, Elsa Lanchester, Lionel Barrymore, Una O'Conner and others are lost in the episodic and sometimes dull picture, but Fields and Bartholomew make an engaging pair. Even at 130 minutes' running time there's simply too much plot crammed into the movie, and the second half is not nearly as good as the first. I generally like honest sentiment, but in David Copperfield the sentiment is often treacly, the characters' affection for one another bordering on the cloying. Everyone is just too "cutesy." However, the movie certainly has its admirers.

Verdict: Has its moments, but it's no Tale of Two Cities. **1/2.

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