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David Copperfield--an ok movie with brilliant performances


slaytonf
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There are also stunning images, as when Emily as a child runs out to the end of the ruined pier.

 

Roland Young demonstrates his under-recognized ability as Uriah Heep.  I hardly recognized him.

 

The film does a fine job at the difficult task of bringing to life Dickens' quirky and eccentric characters without crossing the line into ridiculousness.  I feel for Madge Evans, normally an enchanting screen presence, consigned to a bland two-dimensional role as the Good-Girl-Who-The-Hero-Ought-To-Have-Persued-In-The-First-Place-If-Not-For-His-Lack-Of-Judgement-And-Maturity.

 

The real light of the film, despite Edna May Oliver, and Basil Rathbone, is of course, W. C, Fields.  I can't think of any performance more thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

 

All of these form a bright constellation around a rather dim central performance of Copperfield by Frank Lawton.  Surely someone more on the order of Michael Redgrave in Great Expectations could have been found.

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Yes, as you said, slaytonf, a wonderful array of eccentric performances are to be found in the film, in addition to the charm of Freddie Bartholomew (though my favourite Bartholomew performance is in Captains Courageous). The film's second half is decidedly less interesting to me, once the rather dull Frank Lawton as the adult David becomes the film's central character.

 

Highlight moment of the film, if I had to pick just one, comes when Edna May Oliver's Aunt Betsy hauls off and slams the doctor over the head twice with her purse (which looks like it may well contain a bowling ball). This may be my favourite Edna May performance, which is saying a lot.

 

But Fields brings an unexpected warmth to his scenes with Bartholomew, Rathbone's sneering, thin lipped Mr. Murdstone as a step father would be any child's nightmare, and Roland Young showed off his great versatility by bringing a downright reptilian quality to his Uriah Heep portrayal.

 

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And here's another effective performer in the film that no one seems to talk about, the forgotten Lennox Pawle as the simple minded Mr. Dick.

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Roland Young demonstrates his under-recognized ability as Uriah Heep.  I hardly recognized him.

 

All of these form a bright constellation around a rather dim central performance of Copperfield by Frank Lawton.  Surely someone more on the order of Michael Redgrave in Great Expectations could have been found.

 

Poor Roland Young, I think Topper kind of ruined his career as a character actor, because he was forced to do that role in every film he made afterwards. He is wonderful as Uriah Heep, and I did not know it was him the first several times I saw it.

 

Agree about Frank Lawton- but it was likely he was either under-directed or told to play it down because so much time was spent with the myriad of character actors vying for screen time.

 

It's an okay movie, but it fails at the grand task of  capturing the beauty of the source novel.

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There's a lot to admire in David Copperfield, but it does lack the sweep of the grand novel. I think perhaps George Cukor, so good with actors, may not have been the right choice for the sweeping material. He directed so many wonderful films -- his Little Women is one of the best translations of novel to screen, but Little Women represents a smaller canvas than David Copperfield. 

 

Jack Conway, on the other hand, was the perfect choice to direct the magnificent film of A Tale of Two Cities. I'm not the biggest fan of David Lean's beloved Great Expectations, although I always enjoy it.  I think the film is way too talky and literary -- lots of words on screen as well. IMHO, Lean did grow and learn over the years. I think his masterpiece is A Passage to India.

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I really like this film and feel like Selznick and Cukor do a pretty good job of distilling the novel down to a couple of hours without losing the scope of the story. I think Bartholomew does a great job in his first major role. I don't find that Lawton is a weak link, but he does have to take a back seat to a lot of the character actors. He may not be the most charismatic actor in the world but he does a sufficient job.

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I've never read the book, and never saw the movie in question.  However....what I found interesting is.......

 

In a high school textbook of mine, in a section that discusses literature and Dickens in particular, the part that summarized "David Copperfield"  used an illustration, copied from the movie no doubt. of W.C. Fields and Freddie Bartholemew!

 

I sincerely doubt Dickens had Fields in mind when writing the novel.....

 

 

Sepiatone

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Poor Roland Young, I think Topper kind of ruined his career as a character actor, because he was forced to do that role in every film he made afterwards. He is wonderful as Uriah Heep, and I did not know it was him the first several times I saw it.

 

Agree about Frank Lawton- but it was likely he was either under-directed or told to play it down because so much time was spent with the myriad of character actors vying for screen time.

 

It's an okay movie, but it fails at the grand task of  capturing the beauty of the source novel.

 

Roland Young made such an impression on me in this movie that I found myself transferring my dislike for the character he portrays to the actor himself.  I still have second thoughts when I see him now in other films.  Perhaps this is a case of a performance being too good!

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