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David Copperfield (1935)

david_copperfield_1935_film_posterI’ve been going through a Charles Dickens phase (books and movies) and have had had my eye on seeing the 1935 David Copperfield for some time. It was produced by David O. Selznick while he was still at MGM and has the kind of cast where you seem to spend your whole time recognizing and pointing out character actors. The film is so full of picturesque characters and actors that one almost loses sight of the titular hero.

David Copperfield is the story of the maturation of young David Copperfield from child to man, and all the people who populate his life. He is born to a widowed, child-like mother, Clara (Elizabeth Allan), and grows into the 11 year old Freddie Bartholomew. His mother marries the domineering Mr. Murdstone (Basil Rathbone) and dies of a crushed spirit. David then runs away and seeks protection from his highly eccentric Aunt Betsey (Edna May Oliver), meets the constantly insolvent Wilkins Micawber (W.C. Fields), the ingratiating and smarmy Uriah Heep (Roland Young), the also child-like Dora (Maureen O’Sullivab), the goodhearted Peggotty family (led by Lionel Barrymore) and the girl-turned woman who will always love him, Agnes Wickfield (played by Madge Evans as an adult).

David O. Selznick wanted to turn David Copperfield into two movies, but MGM was not interested. Instead, the 800 page novel is squeezed into 130 minutes of film and it plays like an animated illustrated Dickens. The highlight reel of the book. A parade of characters fly by. Blink and you miss Elsa Lanchester as Clickett (helping the Micawber’s with their many children). Una O’Connor has a few good bits, though. Jessie Ralph is also excellent as Peggotty, David’s nurse.

The three characters who are most memorable, however, are Edna May Oliver, Basil Rathbone, and W.C. Fields. In truth, I think Edna May Oliver is the real star and hero of the film. She even received top billing and was largely acclaimed as the very image of Dickens’ Aunt Betsey in contemporary reviews. It’s hard to disagree with that assessment (though the first Aunt Betsey I saw was Maggie Smith in the 1999 BBC miniseries adaptation – she gives Edna May Oliver stiff competition, but they’re both wonderful). Indomitable, jerky and abrupt in movement, and with an alarming expression, she also provides the biggest, most sincere heart in the film. She seems to hold it all together. The film opens with her, she saves David from Mr. Murdstone in the middle, and the movie even ends with her and her cousin, Mr. Dick (Lennox Pawle).

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Mr. Dick, young David Copperfield, and Aunt Betsey

Basil Rathbone had a busy year in 1935. He appeared in seven films, including Captain BloodAnna KareninaA Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield. He mostly played villains that year and is excellent as the cold, controlling man who enjoys crushing people under his will and succeeds in breaking his wife emotionally. Young David Copperfield describes him as looking just like a panther in one of his books, which seems apt.

I have heard much about W.C. Fields, but David Copperfield was the first film I have seen him in. He is, from what I understand, usually, notoriously not fond of children in his films, but Micawber is an exception. Apparently Charles Laughton was originally cast, but he did not like his performance and bowed out. Fields was inserted at the last minute and even had to read some of his lines off cue cards. I enjoyed his performance, though perhaps because he was reading off cue cards, he occasionally seemed oddly disconnected from the other characters (or is that just how W.C. Fields is?).

The film is a bit static, not nearly as dynamic as I remember the 1935 A Tale of Two Cities being (which also featured Edna May Oliver, Basil Rathbone, and Elizabeth Allan). It’s more like a filmed series of picture postcard, though it makes for a pretty picture and the cast is rich. I’m glad I saw it and it has given me a strong desire to read the book again (though I have promised myself not to start until I finish a few of the books I am reading now).

Random Note: 1935 seems to have been a big year for literary adaptations. Anna KareninaMutiny on the Bounty, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, A Midsummer Night’s DreamLes Miserables. Even The Mystery of Edwin DroodCaptain Blood, and She. Something in the air?

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Young in Heart (1938)

220px-Poster_-_Young_in_Heart,_The_01The Young in Heart is a delightful, though not well known, comedy about a family of sophisticated, charming con artists who are trying to con a wealthy, elderly lady by pretending to be far better people than they really are. The trouble is that with all the effort to appear good, they begin to find themselves becoming just who they pretend to be and it’s very embarrassing to each member of the family; they don’t want the others to know they are becoming soft-hearted.

It seems like such a shame that this film is not better known today. Part of the reason could be that the cast does not contain actors we are as familiar with now. The movie is about the Carleton family, who are attempting to con their way into a wealthy position: Colonel Anthony Carleton (Roland Young), who is called Sahib by his family, Mrs. Carleton (Billie Burke), who everyone calls Marmy, and their two children George-Anne (Janet Gaynor’), the youngest and the real brains of the family, and Richard Carleton (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr,), suave, but who has never worked a day in his life.

Of course, the Sahib is not really a sahib from India or a colonel or a Bengal Lancer, though he is always saying that he is. He just played the role in a play, many years ago, with his wife.

While arranging for Richard to marry an heiress so they can all sponge off of her, the Sahib cheats at cards and they are unmasked and told to leave the Riviera. They are destitute in a train station, where Sahib and Marmy fondly reminisce about the old days while their two children despondently contemplate the wreck of their plans: Richard to marry the heiress and George-Anne to marry a Scotsman without any money (since she was going to sponge of Richard’s wife, she didn’t need a rich husband).

Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Roland Young, Minnie Dupree, Billie Burke

Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Roland Young, Minnie Dupree, Billie Burke

The Sahib and Marmy are a very affectionate couple and seem to be crooks out of sheer eccentricity. Their children, however, are quite serious about their crookedness; they mean to have money. Fortunately, they encounter Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree), a lonely, rich and very sweet old lady who is only too delighted to meet such an agreeable family and is so touched by their kind attention that she invites them to stay with her. Then George-Anne conceives a plan: they’re going to be as good as Miss Fortune thinks they are so that she’ll make them her heirs.

George-Anne even talks her father and Richard into pretending to look for jobs, although they really just go out and tour the city. But then Duncan Macrea (Richard Carlson), her former fiancé, comes to see George-Anne. He’s extremely annoyed about her whole family con artistry, but says he finds he can’t live without her. She tells him that he will have to and he, rather mischievously, knowing that her father is supposedly looking for work, gets Sahib a job as a salesman for the Flying Wombat, which is a car that looks like the kind of thing Batman should have driven.  George-Anne is obliged to make Sahib take the job so that Miss Fortune won’t know he wasn’t serious about his job hunting. He does so with much trepidation and discovers that he has a real knack for the business.

Janet Gaynor with puppy for Miss Fortune

Janet Gaynor with puppy for Miss Fortune

Richard also ends up with a job, sorting mail at an engineering company. His boss, Leslie Saunders (Paulette Goddard) is not impressed by his smooth lines, but is intrigued that he has never had a job before and is curious how he will turn out. She also lets him take her out to dinner after he gets his first paycheck and soon he thinks he’d rather like to study engineering.

There are two themes in the film: faith and love. Miss Fortune says “one must have faith in the people you love,” even though her lawyer warns her about the Carletons. Duncan, in his own way, has faith in George-Anne. He is always showing up on some errand or other and they always argue and he is always leaving “once and for all.” He drives her nuts by insisting that though her family are all crooks, she’s a good girl, while she keeps telling him to stop making her out to be better than she is and that she’s just as crooked as her family. Ironically, she’s right, but Duncan keeps on insisting and is eventually proved right. Even Leslie Saunders demonstrates faith in Richard when she gives him the job.

Of course, the reason people live up to the faith is because they love the person with the faith. The difficulty is just to get over their bad habits and crooked ways. At one point Richard asks if George-Anne is in love with Duncan and she replies, “How could I be in love with him? He hasn’t any money!” They are all touched by Miss Fortune’s utter faith and love for them, but won’t admit it to each other. When Richard buys her a dog, he says it’s part of the act. When George-Anne catches her father with a moist eye, he denies it has anything to do with being moved by Miss Fortune’s kindness.

It’s all very sweet and charming and the humor is rather droll. It is a comedy of crooks becoming good, quite accidentally, because of the people around them and their own efforts of deception.

The movie is on DVD and can also be seen on youtube.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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