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Far Better Than "Okay"
FANatic-1016 April 2000
This film is not just "okay", its a masterful adaptation of one of the world's great novels. Whatever shortcomings it may have for modern audiences due to its age and the technical limitations of the time are more than compensated for by the immense care and effort lavished on the production and a cast that is impeccably "right". Truly, this is one of the finest jobs of casting you could imagine, as MGM was blessed at this time to have a slate of brilliant and irreplacable character actors. My favorites: W.C. Fields at his peak, born to play Micawber; the inimitable and wonderful Edna May Oliver, Betsy Trotwood to a T; and Lennox Pawle, unforgettable as Mr. Dick. And if I wanted to be really tiresome, I could probably name 8 others. Dickens would have been pleased!
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Enjoyable Version of the Story, With a Very Good Cast
Snow Leopard10 August 2004
With a very good cast and a well-conceived adaptation of the novel, this version of "David Copperfield" is enjoyable in its own right, and it does a good job of preserving the most important themes of the original. The quirks and characteristics of most of the characters are captured effectively by the cast. Freddie Bartholomew is engaging in the title role, and the cast members as a whole work together and complement each other well.

It would be hard even to list all of the good performances. Edna May Oliver almost seems to have born to play Dickens's kind of strong-willed but caring female character. W.C. Fields is perhaps somewhat different from the novel's conception of Micawber, but he is quite entertaining, and he gets plenty of good lines. Characters like Uriah Heep, Mr. Dick, the Murdstones, and several others could have come straight from the novel. As the adult Copperfield, Frank Lawton is sometimes rather bland, but he is likable and is at least believable as Bartholomew's grown-up counterpart.

The story, of necessity, is episodic and moves quite quickly, usually including only the highlights of the narrative. But it does a very good job of this, making each sequence work well, and efficiently fitting each one into the story as a whole. George Cukor certainly deserves a good deal of credit for making it work and fit together so well. The settings, which are always important in a Dickens story, are also for the most part pretty good.

The original novel "David Copperfield" is such a fine classic of literature that no two-hour movie could be on quite the same level, but this version is quite enjoyable, and it does a very good job of depicting the atmosphere and most of the important events of the story.
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Mr. Dickens' Characters Come To Life
Ron Oliver16 February 2000
A young boy grows to manhood in Victorian England. He will learn to deal with the early deaths of his parents. He will be cruelly abused by his sadistic stepfather. He will be betrayed by false friends. He will experience a brief, tragic marriage. He will also be showered with tenderness and affection from hearts good & true. He will grow to be a man made strong by adversity, but still wondering if he'll turn out to be the hero of his own life. He is DAVID COPPERFIELD.

Charles Dickens' masterpiece comes to marvelous life in this triumphant translation from literary classic into film. Enormous care was taken by MGM to get the look & feel just right - to make the viewer believe they were seeing the novel spread out before them, without a false moment from start to finish. (The Studio even went so far as to use special on-location exterior filming at Canterbury Cathedral, a segment that only runs for a few seconds.)

The all-star cast is remarkable:

Freddie Bartholomew, newly brought from England by his aunt, is perfect in the role of Young David; his anguish at the death of his mother is almost palpable.

Replacing a reluctant Charles Laughton, W. C. Fields proved a triumph in the comic role of the penniless Mr. Micawber, always confident of something `turning up.' (You might think Fields' American accent & mannerisms would tend to be grating, but he turns in what is arguably his finest performance. Fields had loved Dickens' novels for years and always kept a few in his vaudeville trunk. He knew the role and how to play it. Here he takes the character of Micawber, tweaks it slightly, and delights us.)

Lionel Barrymore, as the old fisherman Dan'l Peggoty, adding yet another exceptional portrait to his gallery of character parts.

Edna May Oliver is unforgettable as the stern, yet loving, Aunt Betsey, forever chasing donkeys off her property - fiercely defensive of those she cares for.

Basil Rathbone as Mr. Murdstone, dark & dangerous, full of passions & fury.

Maureen O'Sullivan as darling Dora, sweet & doomed.

Roland Young as an oily Uriah Heep, sniveling & devious.

Lewis Stone, Elizabeth Allan, Una O'Connor, Lennox Pawle, Elsa Lanchester, Violet Kemble Cooper, Madge Evans, Frank Lawton - all perfectly cast.

(Look for E. E. Clive, Lionel Belmore & Arthur Treacher in tiny uncredited roles. Sir Hugh Walpole, the celebrated English novelist who adapted the novel for the screen, appears as the Vicar.)

Savor this wonderful film again & again.
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The best cast, best rendition of a classic novel ever.
gjames320 August 2004
I've read "David Copperfield" at least a half dozen times. If it's not the greatest novel in the English language, then it's darned close to it. Like any Dickens work, there are plots within plots and scores of major and minor character. With the exception of excluding poor Traddles, this film catches the essence of the story better than any since--and I defy anyone to cite a better movie for casting the right actor with the right character. Of course, W.C. Fields' Mr. McCawber was superb and has been cited time and again as a great characterization, but it's also difficult to fault Basil Rathbone's Mr. Murdstone, Edna may Oliver's Aunt Betsy, Roland Young's Uriah Heep, Freddy Bartholomew's young David, Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Peggoty or Maureen O'Sullivan's Dora Spenlow. As well, George Cukor's direction and period details are top-notch, as is the screen adoption of a very complicated novel. It's simply one of the greatest movies ever made.
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Masterpiece of film-making brings Dickens' novel to life...
Doylenf28 May 2001
Of all of the films directed by George Cukor, I think this is his finest achievement, helped in no small measure by the perfect casting of all the Dickens characters.

Freddie Bartholomew is flawless as the young David. Edna May Oliver as his stern but loving Aunt Betsy Trotwood gives her usual sharp characterization and nearly steals the first half of the movie. As for Mr. Murdstone, Basil Rathbone is the perfect embodiment of that brutally wicked man. Born to play Mr. Micawber is W. C. Fields, so uncannily right that it almost seems as if Dickens had him in mind when he wrote the character!

Very atmospheric, so much so that it seems almost incredible that an American movie company could have crafted this gem. One would think the British would have beat us to it--but Dickens would have approved of this version, I'm sure.

The only drawback is the length and the scenes involving David's wife, Dora, as played by Maureen O'Sullivan with a saccharine sweetness that becomes cloying at times. (Thank God she didn't play Melanie in 'GWTW'). Some of the acting is a bit florid but to be expected when you consider this was made in 1935. Roland Young is well cast as Uriah Heep.

Highly recommended. Anyone who cherishes the Dickens novel will not be disappointed. The only flaw is that the story has been compressed in order to limit the running time to two hours and ten minutes and it shows. All the essential characters remain but some of them have little dimension because of time constraints.
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Oliver tops even Fields
mlevans11 January 2010
Having always heard of David Copperfield, but never having read the novel nor seen the movie, I finally decided to check out the DVD. I found it quite enjoyable with an all-star cast and good Dickensian backdrops.

I have always loved W.C. Fields, but have to disagree with those who say he steals the show. Although he is perfect as Mcawber, to me it is Edna May Oliver who steals the picture. She is delightful as the dotty aunt – especially standing up to Mr. and Miss Murdstone with the loony backing of Mr. Dick (a charming Lennox Pawle).

Of course Lionel Barrymore always makes the most of a part and does so as the gruff fisherman Dan Peggotty. Freddie Bartholomew is excellent as the young David. Elizabeth Allen is gorgeous and delightful as David's mother, while Basil Rathbone and Violet Kemble Cooper are cold and devious as the step-father and his housekeeper sister.

The entire cast is excellent, including Jessie Ralph as Peggotty and Herbert Mundin as the 'willing' Barkis. My only complaint – and this is from one who hasn't read the book – is that the miscellaneous characters get a bit confusing. A guy who apparently had been nice to David in school runs off with and abandons the adopted daughter of Peggotty's brother. Then two men fight during a shipwreck and David sees his school friend dead. Perhaps things were better spelled out in the book.

In any event, it is a quite charming film. Oliver and Field are delightful, along with the rest of the talented cast. I doubt that as better adaptation could be done today.
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When MGM got it right,they got it right.
ianlouisiana29 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
At one time,along with the Edmund Gwenn/Natalie Wood version of "Miracle on 34th St" and Robert Youngson's "Golden Age of Comedy",the wonderful MGM "David Copperfield" used to be a Christmas staple on British television. Now it's the loud and bloodthirsty "The Great Escape" where in the key scene dozens of British officers are shot in cold blood by our Common Market partners - well,there's no accounting for taste I suppose,but do the broadcasting companies ever consult their audience I wonder? There's not a better film to complement that satisfied after-dinner feeling than George Cukor's masterpiece.Whatever criticism you may level at MGM ,when they got things right,they got things right.A lot of love went into this film,a lot of care.With the choice of "All the Stars in Heaven" as they used to say,the Studio picked wisely.The incomparable Edna May Oliver stands head and shoulders above them all as David's Aunt Betsy. Bill Fields is an amiable Micawber,Basil Rathbone a blood-chilling Murdstone.Roland Young perhaps surprisingly cast as Heep is really unpleasant.Frank Lawton and Fredddie Bartholomew between them flesh out the young man who never knew whether he was going to be the hero of his own life.Cukor caught the atmosphere of a very long and much-loved novel and turned it into an accessible film that appealled to an audience that might otherwise have never had the pleasure of meeting some of the most wonderful characters in English Literature.
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A Good Version of a Classic
theowinthrop15 May 2005
This version of David COPPERFIELD is quite a good one, in that it does trim the 800 plus page novel down to reasonable coherence. There are some characters that one misses, but they are understandably cut due to length considerations. While Steerforth and his betrayal of the Peggoty Family is in the film (including the dual tragedy at it's conclusion), the sub-story of Little Em'ly's friend Martha and the business regarding Steerforth's mother, Rosa Dartle, and Mrs. Mowcher were dumped (Mrs. Mowcher would have been hard to cast). Pity, Mrs. Mowcher's famous speech to David about not confusing her physical attributes with her mental ones is missing. Also Steerforth's butler Littimer appears once, but the film does not get into the ironic coda of his imprisonment. While Uriah Heep's villainy against Mr. Wickfield and his clients is shown, his willingness to dig up dirt against other "enemies" is not shown. In particular his treatment of Dr. Strong (David's second schoolmaster), his young wife, and Jack Dalton is not developed (which is sad as it proves Mr. Dick is not simple minded).

But those are minor points really. The best jobs in the film are the work of the performers under George Cukor's direction: Edna Mae Oliver as the crusty, wise Aunt Betsy; Roland Young as the evil, greasy Uriah Heep (his best villain part); and W.C.Fields as Wilkins McCawber (Dicken's tribute to his lovable but improvident father) is superb - the one time his comic personae met the proper dramatic role; and Lionel Barrymore as Dan Pegotty determined to find his lost, ruined niece. Freddy Bartholemew's performance as young David is wonderful. But I must admit that Frank Lawson is a trifle colorless as the grown up David (although he has a funny moment at a dinner that Dora (Maureen O'Sullivan) tries to prepare). It is a weakness but a small weakness in a nearly perfect film.
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One of the best in Dickens films - a true classic.
lora6416 October 2006
Although I've seen the movie on TV a few times over the decades, today I received the DVD digital version of "David Copperfield", wonderfully restored, and I must admit that the subtitles were a tremendous help in catching every bit of the story.

To me Freddie Bartholomew as young David is the most moving character because as a sensitive, loving child he must endure so much injustice and heartache, what with the loss of his mother, the brutal treatment from his stepfather, and then being sent away to a workhouse, only to flee to the safety of his aunt in Dover, walking all the way by foot, in hopes of a better life to grow up in. The stark realistic atmosphere that envelops many of the episodic scenes draws one into the tale with captivating ease. I consider it even more convincing than the scenes from "Great Expectations", the version with John Mills in it.

W.C. Fields gives a remarkably sincere and fine portrayal of Mr. Macawber with all his many subtleties of speech. I couldn't picture it being performed as well by anyone else, and I think Ch. Laughton would not have been the right choice or as convincing.

I put this early film at the top of my list of great ones!
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Some amazing character actors!
BonzoDog22 July 2001
This version of David Copperfield is a little disappointing in that the lead characters (David, Agnes, Steerforth, Little Em'ly) are somewhat bland and don't reveal their depth of feeling or passion. But the actors who play the supporting characters are so superb that this version is worth seeking out for those who love Dickens' work. Aunt Betsy, Uriah Heep, Mr. Dick, Mr. Micawber, Dan Peggotty and Ham are fleshed out by actors who have true spark and understand that their characters are supposed to be a little larger than life.

W.C. Fields can act- he's not just playing himself here. Although Mr. Micawber is a somewhat Fields-ish fellow, Fields adds a touching sincerity to Micawber's belief that he will come out ahead someday to everyone's benefit. Micawber's denunciation of Uriah Heep is both fun and close to what one can picture from the novel.

A lot of plot is left out, since you can't really cram an epic like that into a 2 hour film- the BBC miniseries is better for depth of character and filling in plot holes- but this 1935 version can be considered a classic for those looking for a nice large-screen adaptation with some incredibly good character actors.
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Tons of Stars!
gkeith_12 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I just kept marveling at the constant parade of major stars who appeared in this movie. I will go into this dance now, and maybe not in any particular order: Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O'Sullivan, Basil Rathbone, Arthur Treacher, W.C. Fields, Freddie Bartholomew, Elsa Lanchester, Una O'Connor. Others are Jessie Ralph and Lennox Pawle. Mr. Pawle was even funnier than W.C. Fields. It was amazing how Aunt Betsy always let Mr. Dick make the major decisions, with his "common sense", LOL.

For those who say that the actor portraying Davy as an adult is quite bland, I felt that this was the director's way of introducing us to Davy's adult self gradually. Davy was a boy whose parents had died young. He was later abused and then raised by good family and friends, and when he grew up he had the good judgment of someone who has been 'through the fire'. His adult character was rather like a steel that been made stronger by going through the flames. He was able to help expose the villainy of Urian Heap (rhymes with creep).

I felt that W.C. Fields made a dramatic role quite comedic; I feel that in this movie the roles were one and the same.

I never tire of seeing Edna May Oliver.

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Perfect casting and being true to the Dickens novel help make this a great film.
emprof2 January 2012
This film is so true to Dickens' novel, and the acting is so incredibly perfect. Every actor in this film, from the stars to the extras made this film a treasure. Freddie Bartholomew as the young David is convincingly the naive, good-natured, and bright David. Roland Young easily displays the creepy, slimy, and untrustworthy Uriah Heap. After his role as Mr. Murdstone, it is no wonder Basil Rathbone was often typecast as a ruthless villain. Edna May Oliver should have won an academy award as the stilted but caring Aunt Betsey Trotwood. This was the quintessential role for W. C. Fields as the penniless Micawber. Jessie Ralph as the faithful, loving Nurse Peggotty was perfectly cast. What is so amazing, too, is that this film does a fine job of capturing many of the details in the almost 700-page novel. With George Cukor as director, it is not surprising this was a fine film.
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The Story of David
lugonian27 December 2008
David COPPERFIELD (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1935), directed by George Cukor, is one of Hollywood's many contributions in the world of classic literature, transforming the literary works of Charles Dickens to the silver screen, the best coming from the 1930s. With OLIVER TWIST (Monogram, 1933) and GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Universal, 1934) starting the trend, it would be a matter of time before MGM, the biggest studio in the business, to turn out an expensive, all-star production of American and British actors combined bringing the Dickens characters to life. One of the most interesting selections was having comedian W.C. Fields, on loan from Paramount, playing Wilkins Milcawber, a role originally intended for Britisher Charles Laughton. Another interesting fact is that it is Fields, and not any one of the studio's own contract players, whose name heads the big cast in the opening credits, though for the closing, the names are categorized in order of appearance. With Fields pictured with the title character on both video and DVD packages, one shouldn't assume David COPPERFIELD to be a W.C. Fields comedy. His spread out scenes are briefly performed, not making his first appearance until 38 minutes from the start of the story. In short, a movie rightfully belonging to the equally matched performances by Freddie Bartholomew (David, the boy) and Frank Lawton (David, the young man). Regardless of the choir singing to Christmas songs, "The First Noel" and "Christmas Day in the Morning" on the soundtrack in the opening credits, David COPPERFIELD is not a Christmas themed photoplay in a sense of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" but a story of a boy from the time of his birth to his youth as a young man.

Played in biographical form, the life story of David Copperfield is said to be the life of its creator, with the opening title "Like many fine parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child, and his name is David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens, indicating that. Opening with the passage of a book reading, Chapter One, "I Am Born," the wonderful life of David Copperfield begins with his birth to Clara Copperfield (Elizabeth Allan), a young widow whose husband died six months previously. Over the years, David,the boy (Freddie Bartholomew) has been reared by both mother and Nurse Paggerty (Jessie Ralph). After Clara's marriage to the stern Edward Murdstone (Basil Rathbone), their once happy existence turns for the worse when David, who has never liked his stepfather, is abused with severe punishments by him. After Clara dies in childbirth, Murdstone puts David to work in a London factory under the care of family man, Mr. Micawber (W.C. Fields). David finds happiness with the Micawbers until being forced to leave town after Micawber serves time in debtor's prison. Not wanting to return to Mr. Murdstone and his wicked sister, Jane (Violet Kemble-Cooper), David walks over a hundred miles to Dover to live with his Aunt Betsy (Edna May Oliver), who, along with Mr. Dick (Lennox Pawle), a dim-wit with common sense, rear the boy. Educated in Castleberry and living in the home of Mr. Wickfield (Lewis Stone), David (Frank Lawton), now a fine young man with ambition to become a writer, marries the pretty yet childish Dora Spendow (Maureen O'Sullivan), while being secretly loved by Wickfield's daughter, Agnes (Madge Evans). During the course of his wonderful life, David is reunited with Mr. Micawber but encounters troubles along the way, especially with the sinister Uriah Heep (Roland Young).

Others members of the cast include: Lionel Barrymore (Dan Peggotty); Elsa Lanchester (Clickett); Una O'Connor (Mrs. Gummidge); John Buckler (Ham); Hugh Williams (Steerforth); Herbert Mundin (Barkis), and many others. Aside from Bartholomew, Lawton, and Edna May Oliver in standout performances, Basil Rathbone as the cold-hearted Murdstone, and W.C. Fields, one of the most likable and sincere characters associated with David, have lasting appeal. Take note that Fields does Mr. Micawber in the manner of Dickens and, in short, Micawber being W.C. Fields as if Dickens had written Micawber entirely with Fields in mind. Look quickly for Arthur Treacher as the donkey man who takes away and goes off with young David's money.

"David Copperfield," in book form, is a thick novel and involving story with many incidents and characters not included in the final film print. In movie form, David COPPERFIELD is, at times, a dark and depressing story with the boyhood portion of Copperfield's life more interesting than his adult years, but overall, in abridged form of 132 minutes, an agreeable film that would have made Charles Dickens proud. Formerly presented on commercial and cable TV in the 1990s in both colorized and shorter versions, David COPPERFIELD can be found intact in glorious black and white on Turner Classic Movies. Remade several times since 1935, there's no question that this David O. Selznick production, in short, remains the most beloved and critically acclaimed of them all. (****)
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Good Adaptation of Dickens
DKosty1234 March 2007
This film might be the best adaptation of a Dickens novel this side of the epic Scrooge story itself. The cast is stellar & well put together. This film alone is the reason W C Fields had an inside track to be the Wizard of Oz in 1939. If Fields hadn't wanted so much money for Oz, it would have been interesting.

Fields is excellent in a supporting role in this movie. While some of his comedy, especially a good piece of his physical comedy is worked in early in this film, it is his acting that is good. This is Fields best dramatic part in any movie.

Freddie Bartholmew is great as young David Copperfield. Basil Rathbone (later Sherlock Holmes) is excellent in support too. George Cukor is solid in directing this film at a good pace too. Overall, I don't know if a remake of this could be any better. Check this out if you happen upon the film anyplace. Last time I saw it was on Turner Classic Movies.

I am glad I finally saw this as for years I had heard about this film & especially how good Fields is in it. When I finally saw it, everything I had heard about it was right.
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Better By Halves
bkoganbing25 February 2007
Watching the classic MGM version of David Copperfield, I couldn't help but feel that too much was cut out of this film. It would have been better done in two parts with one part strictly dealing with David's childhood up to the point where he comes into the custody of his great aunt Betsy Trotwood. Another film would then pick up the slack and follow him through adulthood. MGM did it that way several years later in their life of Thomas Edison, it should definitely have been done for David Copperfield.

Too much of the story is left out and it's assumed since David Copperfield was and is required reading in most high school literature courses that the audience would be familiar with the story. Certainly the fine group of players that George Cukor gathered all do their best and are well cast in their parts.

For the one and only time in his career W.C. Fields played someone other than W.C. Fields on screen. Borrowed from Paramount, Fields is cast as the ever expectant Mr. Micawber who proves to be David's salvation both as a child and as an adult. He also indulges in a little bit of Fields like physical comedy, please note that walk on the roof to enter his dwelling. Still in the key moments you do realize he's Micawber and not Fields in the film.

Freddie Bartholomew followed up his first noticed screen role in Anna Karenina with a winning portrayal as young David the child. I'm sure that Frank Lawton might not have gotten the part had he had to carry a whole film as an adult. Still he's not bad as the adult David for his half of the film.

Dickens's villains are as black as they come in literature and Basil Rathbone and Violet Kemble Cooper as the Murdstone brother and sister are as coldblooded a pair as you'll ever find. And Roland Young as Uriah Heep is one oily insinuating dude.

Rathbone as Murdstone is young David's father who was cruel to his mother Elizabeth Allan who was a kindly, but weak soul. When David grows up he remembers what happened and when another kindly, but weak and also airheaded soul in the person of his first wife Dora comes into his life, his protective instincts are aroused and he marries her. Maureen O'Sullivan who would usually be playing upper crust types plays the simple lisping airhead, Dora. It's an unusual turn for her and a good one. Funniest moment in the film when she invites Edna May Oliver as Aunt Betsy and Lennox Pawle as Mr. Dick over and the meal is a disaster.

I liked the film, liked everybody in it. But MGM and George Cukor would have been better off doing it in two parts. Still it's a classic, though don't use it as a substitute for reading the book or Cliff's Notes if you have to do a book report.
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Artistic and Beautifully-Mounted Production; A Sad Era Brought to Life
silverscreen88827 November 2005
The artistry of George Cukor as director I suggest is everywhere in evidence in this long, faithful and artistically admirable presentation of Charles Dickens' most-esteemed work. All the author's qualities are faithfully interpreted here, I assert--a realistic British Empire background of class snobbery, long-suffering underclass humor and sublimated desperation, mawkish sentimentality and well-earned dramatic moments. David Copperfield (1935) . The script was adapted from the Dickens novel in 1935 by Hugh Walpole, with aid from Howard Estabrook and Lenore J. Coffee (uncredited). B/W Cinematography was done by Oliver T. Marsh and award level art direction by Cedric Gibbons. In the Art Department, Merrill Pye and Edwin B. Willis are billed as associate art directors, referring to fantastically complex period settings they provided. Douglas Shearer's difficult work as recording director was handled brilliantly, I suggest; Dolly Tree was credited as wardrobe head. Herbert Stothart composed the film's music, with uncredited aid from William Axt and R.H. Bassett. The long and involved story begins with young David, played by Freddie Bartholemew being born six months after his father's death to a weak, sickly woman. She is compelled for financial reasons to remarry, her choice being one Murdstone, Basil Rathbone, who with his abominable sister's help drives Davy's mother to her grave rapidly. At the mercy of his cruel stepfather, Davy is sent to work in a factory. He finally escapes this life by running to his gruff but kindly Aunt Betsy Trotwood played by Edna May Oliver. His mother's maid, Peggotty, played by Jessie Ralph and her family whom he comes to know, well form a portion of his milieu, in their home by the unrelenting sea; the other parts are his adventures in the city of London, and his school days with friends such as Steerforth, Tommy Traddles and other familiar characters from the novel; and the last, his courtship of a young woman after tragedy has struck the Peggotty family. Among the cast, Lionel Barrymore as the Peggotty patriarch, Rathbone, Roland Young as unctuous Uriah Heep. Ralph and Oliver come off best. W. C. Fields has a showy part as ne'er-do-well Mr. Micawber, and Violert Kemble-Cooper brings Jane Murdstone to life. Others in the huge cast include Freddie Bartholemew, who is fine as young Davy, Lewis Stone, Lennox Pawle, Elizabeth Allen, Elsa Lanchester, Herbert Murdin, Una O'Connor, Herbert Murdin, Hugh Williams, Frank Lawton and Madge Evans. This is a very well-made film, absorbing and cruel, tender and interesting. It is Dickens' most- respected work, and dated, in my opinion, only by his use of a child as the victim of British imperial oppression. This is a very fine early David Selznick achievement in both purpose and detail; also, I credit this film with helping to cause Hollywood producers to make many Victorian films thereafter.
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Copperfield gets fine treatment from Cukor.
st-shot10 November 2011
Dead for some time, Charles Dickens was easily the hottest writer in Hollywood in 1935 with four major releases of his works. Tale of Two Cities, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Old Curiosity Shop and David Copperfield were all released in that year and along with Two Cities Copperfield are the two finest American productions of the famed authors work. Smoothly directed by George Cukor and acted by a cast of rich character actors where even a subdued WC Fields does a commendable job as Micawber.

The loving household young David enjoys as a child takes ugly turn when his widowed mother marries the cold and callous Murdstone who brings his equally humorless sister along. Battering and badgering both mother and son matters become unendurable when the mother succumbs and Murdstone and sis hammer David even more. David takes to the road and encounters a variety of challenges eventually making his way to an aunt who had rejected him as a child for not being a girl but embraces him now and is more than well prepared to take on the Murdstones.

As David the magnificent child actor Freddie Bartholmew is mature and responsive beyond his years carry the lead throughout. As the aunt Edna Mae Oliver dominates her scenes in the same way she did in Tale of Two Cities, ditto for the villainous styling of Basil Rathbone who matches his callous and venal Evermonde to the equally vile Murdstone. Elizabeth Allan as David's mother is the one glaring misstep in the cast with her mannered fretting stifled and erratic.

Cukor for his part moves things along at a breezy enough pace re introducing characters and building on the plot in a seamless relaxed fashion ably working the constraints of the medium to give a lush interpretation of this classic novel.
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A sense of abandonment!
alexandra-2519 September 2008
This MGM adaptation of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield is adeptly edited as a means to illustrate the abandonment of young David Copperfield (Freddie Barthlomew). An example is where the errant Micawber and his family leave London for pastures new. Here young Copperfield is left a lone figure of a boy, standing by the roadside as he bids farewell to the Micawber family, giving a sense of abandonment to the viewer. This sense of abandonment conveys Dickens' personal experiences when his errant Father let his family down via his own folly and weaknesses of gambling, dept and imprisonment.

The cast is a montage of actors who play their respective roles in David Copperfeild with a respect for Dickens' characters and work pertaining to the classic novel. Stand-Out performers include Edna May Oliver as the feisty,yet humane, Aunt Betsy, Jessie Ralph as loyal Nurse Peggotty, Lionel Barrymore as compassionate Dan Peggoty, Una O'Conner as the effervescent Mrs Gummidge, Lennox Pawle as the eccentric Mr. Dicks, W.C Fields as the happy-go-lucky Micawber, Ronald Young as the obsequious, unctuous Uriah Heep, Maureen O' Hara as the infantile Dora, Basil Rathbone ( showing nuances of his famous role as Sherlock Holmes through his aloofness) as sadistic Mr. Murdstone, and of course not forgetting the outstanding Freddie Bartholemew as young David Copperfield. Bartholomew brought young Copperfield's sensitivity and anguish to the fore. Indeed, the sensitivity was heightened by the anguish, which turned to despair. Yet Bartholomew also illustrated that Copperfield had fortitude and determination to overcome the negative experiences which culminated in Copperfield the man. In this sense the film is inspirational to those who feel that at odds with the world..

Meanwhile, the actors who portrayed the characters of this MGM adaptation of David Coperfield have formulated the blueprint of the latter's which have become indelible portraits in the viewer's imagination. Hensefourth, W.C Fields becomes the epitome of Mr. Micawber.

What is also interesting is the way the names are apparent monikers applicable to their respective character's nature, idiosyncrasies and deeds. An example is Mr. Murdstone (Basil Rathbone) is potentially the moniker for 'murderer' .

Murdstone's character is a representation of the then acceptable Victorian discipline. In other words such discipline was supposed to shape character, rather than to punish. But MGM are adept to convey Dickens' view of Victorian discipline as cruel, sadistic punishment, and thereby demarcating the rise of new liberal attitudes.

Credit to this adaptation of Dickens' Copperfield also goes to acclaimed director George Cuckor, especially for conveying the composite story into such a relatively short time span with great skill. This credit should be shared with Robert Kern for his adept editing skills.

In sum, this film is a credit to all involved and a great tribute to Charles Dickens the man and the writer.
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A true classic. Appealing Dickens tale.
michaelRokeefe26 November 2005
This is possibly the keenest adaptation of a Dickens classic. Young David Copperfield(Freddie Bartholomew)survives a difficult childhood and we share his trials and tribulations on the way to manhood. Actually a coming-of-age tale that tugs at the heartstrings. Excellently photographed and an all-star cast that brings forth unforgettable characterizations. You don't have to be a Dickens fan to enjoy this version of David COPPERFIELD. Frank Lawton plays Copperfield as a man. Just a few of the other stars making up this outstanding cast:Basil Rathbone, Lionel Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Lewis Stone, Jessie Ralph, Maureen O'Sullivan and Edna May Oliver. This fine 1935 film still can hold your interest.
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"David Copperfield"---Cast Notes and Other Comments
malvernp22 March 2009
I agree with the commentator who offered an opinion that given the length and density of the novel, it should have been filmed in two parts. Alas, the courage to do such a thing would have to wait for 40 years and Francis Ford Coppola in "Godfather I" (1972) and "Godfather II" (1974). Still, what we do have in this film is an extraordinary ensemble of superb actors doing their very best to deal with an abridged screenplay of a much read and highly acclaimed novel.

While watching this film recently, I started to remember where I had seen these folks before, and began to free-associate about some of the celebrated members of this all-star cast. The following personal observations are reflections from that viewing experience:

Violet Kemble-Cooper (Jane Murdstone)---am I the only person who thinks that she is a dead ringer for the American character actor, Mary Nash, who also tended to terrorize children (the nemesis of Shirley Temple in "Heidi" (1937) and "The Little Princess" (1939)?

Basil Rathbone ((Mr. Murdstone)---funny, but I saw Raymond Massey as a more effective villain in this part.

Roland Young ((Uriah Heep)---to the best of my recollection, this is the only downright nasty part this comic actor ever played on the screen.

Hugh Williams (Steerforth)---he gave us an even more repulsive character as Hindley in "Wuthering Heights" (1939).

Jesse Ralph (Nurse Peggotty)---one year later, she played Jack Holt's mother and Jeanette MacDonald's confidant in "San Francisco" (1936).

John Buckler (Ham Peggotty)---did you know that he was the son of actor Hugh Buckler, who delivers the moving final speech in Frank Capra's classic, "Lost Horizon" (1937)?

Edna May Oliver (Aunt Betsey)---it sure looks like this role was a reprise of her Aunt March portrayal in "Little Women" (1933) also directed by George Cukor.

Elizabeth Allan (Mrs. Copperfield)---she was seen to better advantage with less histrionics in "A Tale of Two Cities" as Lucy Manette (1935).

Jean Cadell (Mrs. Micawber)---best remembered as Henry Higgins' housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, in "Pygmalion" (1938).

Una O'Connor (Mrs. Gummidge) and Elsa Lanchester (Clickett)---these two great actors had very little to do in "David Copperfield"---but a great deal more to do in "The Informer" ((1935) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) respectively! Ms. O'Connor's hysterical Minnie also appears on display in "Bride."

What a treat to watch this group of stellar players! Their likes will never be seen again!
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Incredible Cinematography
Hitchcoc18 February 2017
Dickens heroes are always complex characters. They often have flaws and bad judgment that get them into trouble. There are routine forces working against them, be they societal or individually human. David is brought up by a doting mother who is quite weak. When his father dies, his stepfather (Basil Rathbone) has no time for him. He is a burr in his saddle and wants to get rid of him as quickly as possible. He is cast out. As he grows he finds another woman to marry who is not unlike his mother. He makes the acquaintance of a cad who claims to be his friend. Through all this are amazing scenes of the dark English countryside and the oceans with their clashing waves. Like most Dickens books, there are a host of minor characters who inhabit the picaresque novel. Mr. McCawber, Peggoty, Uriah Heep, and on and on. Copperfield's trust in these folks directs his future. Freddie Bartholomew is quite good as the very young David. He was the best of the child actors of his day. W.C. Fields has his best moment on the screen.
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One of my all-time favorite movies
cantileb20 June 2016
I admit upfront that I am a fan of sentimental, romantic stories and this one tops them all. My opinion must not be too off center though because it was "selected by The New York Times as one of the 1000 greatest movies ever made." I saw it as a young girl and have never wavered in my opinion of it. Granted, Freddie Bartholomew's portrayal is now a bit over-the-top, but I still like it. It helps that the writer, Charles Dickens is also a favorite on my reading list.

How could this picture go wrong? George Cukor directed it and David O. Selznick produced. It was up for Best Picture at the Academy Awards although it did not win. And the cast was superb.

W.C. Fields was amazingly eclectic and his performance stands the test of time. For me though, Edna May Oliver's portrayal of the endearing, but eccentric Aunt Betsey was the best performance. Basil Rathbone as the abusive, husband/stepfather villain still ignites the wrath of the viewer. Who couldn't love Nurse Peggotty (Jessie Ralph)who loved the child as her own flesh and blood? Lionel Barrymore also has a strong presence. And, even though I wanted to shake her, Maureen O'Sullivan's, Dora, was flawless. Roland Young still gives me the creeps as Uriah Heep. In summary, let your kids see it. They and you will love it.
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Very good but too much plot for one film...
MartinHafer25 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Technically, in most ways this is a very well made movie. It's obvious David O. Selznick and MGM put a lot of time and money into this production. However, I also felt that some of the acting was a bit suspect and there was way, way too much plot for a single movie--as a result it all came off as very episodic.

The film begins with young David losing his father. As for the mother, she is a weak individual--and so it's interesting that later in the film David marries an even weaker woman. Anyway, this weak lady marries a man she thinks will make a good father (Basil Rathbone). However, Rathbone moves in with his sister and they are awful--cold and cruel. The weak mother soon dies and David is sent off to work--though he only looks to be about 8. From this point on in the film, David bounces around a lot--but fortunately for his Aunt (Edna May Oliver) and a few good friends, he manages to grow into a nice and reasonably level-headed man. In this film portion of the film, lots of very episodic-like things happen--almost like we're seeing a highlights reel of his life from age 18-35 or so. Much of it was entertaining, much of it made me feel lost trying to keep up with all the characters--some of which weren't all that interesting (such as David).

Now the film did have some excellent aspects. A few of the actors were very, very good. In particular, Edna May Oliver was (as usual) great--very entertaining--so much so I wish the movie had been a story of her life! Basil Rathbone was great--and he was always wonderful in villain roles. W.C. Fields was pretty good--especially since his role was not a comedic one. As for the low-points, the mother (Elizabeth Allan) and David's wife (Maureen O'Sullivan) were supposed to be very weak characters--but the film managed to also make them pretty annoying (particularly O'Sullivan)--a definite weakness in the film. As for Una O'Connor, she, too was weak in the film--way too whiny--and a bit too much like the characters she plays in "The Invisible Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein".

It's obvious from my review that I had very mixed feelings about this film. Perhaps it could be I just don't like Dickens all that much but part of the problem is that although the film was set in the 1800s, it came off as too antiquated and stilted at times. And, the episodic nature sure didn't help. I'd really rather see this as a mini-series--the type the Brits make so well. I'll check and see if there is one, as the basic story wasn't bad--just flawed.
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Copperfield Grows Up, But Does the Film Mature? ***
edwagreen18 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Freddie Bartholemew is absolutely phenomenal as the young David Copperfield. The film starts out with Edna May Oliver with Elizabeth Allan; I thought I was back to the even greater "A Tale of 2 Cities," which starred both along with Basil Rathbone, who as the stepfather, gives new meaning to cruelty. It is the latter subject of cruelty that dominated Charles Dickens' two masterpieces- '2 Cities' as well as 'Copperfield.'

The film shows the treachery of early England regarding how children worked forcibly in all sorts of difficult activities. No child labor laws here. The cast is excellent, especially along with Bartholemew, Oliver and Rathbone, there is Jesse Ralph as a kindly, devoted servant. Lionel Barrymore is rather subdued here.

While this is a very good film, it does lose some power once Copperfield grows up. It then essentially becomes a love story as well as greed and ultimate redemption.
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Diverting Dickens For The Speed Reader
slokes19 May 2011
This swirling, memorable adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic novel might have become a classic itself had it been given a half-hour longer to run and fewer subplots to carry. Still, it is an entertaining exemplar of what helped to make Hollywood's Golden Age.

After his father's early death, English boy David Copperfield (Freddie Bartholomew) is exposed to various hardships that test him and sort out true friends from false ones. Grown to adulthood, David (now played by Frank Lawton) pursues a career as a writer while looking out for those he loves.

The best thing "Copperfield" has going for it is a marvelous range of characters representing (with one major exception) the cream of Hollywood's second-tier players. That exception is W. C. Fields, who plays David's early friend, the forever-in-debt Mr. Micawber. Micawber is not a drinker, and he takes well enough to the boy David, but this is otherwise a role that fits Fields like a glove, and he adds distinction to the proceedings.

He's not the most distinctive actor here, nor the funniest. That would probably be Edna Mae Oliver as Betsey Trotwood, a deceptively unaffectionate woman who upbraids her expectant daughter-in-law when she dares suggest her unborn child could be male. "I have a presentiment it will be a girl," she declares, and swats the doctor who delivers news to the contrary. Yet Trotwood is far from disagreeable, as we and David come to understand.

Also wonderful are Jessie Ralph as David's warm governess and one constant, Peggotty; Basil Rathbone as the chilly stepfather Murdstone; and Lennox Pawle as the light-headed polestar of Betsey's life, Mr. Dick. Her Tarzan fan base will find Maureen O'Sullivan frightfully overdressed, but she's quite fun as the sexy and completely unserious Dora Spenlow.

For half the movie, you also have Bartholomew as David, a child actor who provides an empathetic center to the proceedings. Dickens was a writer of both muscular sentimentality and whimsy, qualities Bartholomew's precocious performance helps bring across here. But the second half of the film is not as lucky with the stick-like Lawton in the title role. Nor is it as engaging, juggling as it does several subplots in often awkward, always foreshortened fashion.

One subplot, dealing with David's friend Steerforth and his ruination of a family friend, could have been dispensed with entirely, as it has no bearing on the rest of the story. Director George Cukor seems to lose his balance by letting things get too maudlin.

"David Copperfield" can't help but be a little twee, being a product of the Victorian Age rendered here into an entertainment for the middle-aged aunties who found Cagney and Gable too uncouth. Poor Freddie spent years unsuccessfully trying to shake the "sissy" image he got stuck with here saying lines like "Ooh, mother, you do look pretty tonight!" Even W. C. has to deal with a tea-cozy aesthetic, exclaiming "Shades of Nicodemus!" instead of his usual, less-genteel "Godfrey Daniels!"

I would not recommend this "David" in place of the novel, which is emotionally far more powerful and complex. But for those who have read the book, the movie is a kind of theatrical revue, with some impressively expressionistic cinematography (David awaiting word on his mother's health as lightning flashes across his face; Murdstone's scowling) and pungent readings of familiar lines. All in all, a diverting entertainment that could have done with some pruning but has its heart in the right place.
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