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Sunday, September 15, 2013

'David Copperfield:' A Little Dickens of a Boy Meet Victorian World

David Copperfield
The 1935 film version, which Warner Archives has released on DVD, of the Charles Dickens' novel "David Copperfield" meets the same great expectations as the 1946 film version of Dickens' novel "Great Expectations."

Before discussing what makes "Copperfield" so special, it is worth noting that not having read that novel prevents advising whether slackers can get away with watching this film rather than completing a school assignment to read the book.

Both "Copperfield" the book and the film open with one of Dickens' typically classic introductory sentences. In this case it is "whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show." Discovering this is an exceptionally moving and entertaining experience that writing too much about the plot would ruin.

"Copperfield's" legendary producer David O. Selznick ensures its incredible quality by assembling a dream team. He has George Cukor, whose numerous credits include several classics that include "Gaslight" and "The Philadelphia Story," direct. 

The all-star cast of almost thousands includes Freddie Bartholomew in his Hollywood film debut as the titular character, Edna May Oliver, who Archive and Unreal TV fans know from "The Hildegarde Withers Mysteries Movie Collection," as David's wonderfully crusty Aunt Betsey, and Lionel Barrymore as the brother of David's beloved caregiver Peggotty. 

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, provides a good sense both of (please sir, may I have some more) Oliver's awesome performance and the live-action theater feel of "Copperfield."
Basil Rathbone also has a starring role, but comedy legend W.C. Fields steals the show as the surprisingly child-friendly Mr. Micawber. One has a strong sense that he and Bartholomew delight the other.


"Copperfield" begins on the day of David's birth and goes on to show his happy early years with his widowed mother and much-adored Peggotty. Mrs. Copperfield's decision to remarry disrupts their lives and sets the stage for Dickens' typical (and entirely justified) social commentary regarding the hardships of Victorian life.

These scenes, and the rest of "Copperfield" and Dickens' other writings, also depict Dickens' exemplary fairness in that he shows that one's social status does not necessarily coincide with his or her value as a human.

David soon finds himself joining London's child labor workforce and trading in his comfortable country home for lodging in an overcrowded London flat. A disruption regarding those circumstances and an especially heinous act prompt a truly heart-breaking journey.

The entire first-half of the film evokes thoughts of the Angela Lansbury mystery series "Murder, She Wrote" in that it seems that a death always coincides with a visit from David. (No plagiarism Slackers!)

"Copperfield" then soon jumps forward roughly 15 years in our hero's life and depicts him as a young man back in London. This era is marked with the highs and lows that we all begin experiencing on entering the real world. It also shows both that someone who seems to be a soul mate does not necessarily make an ideal spouse but that a good reason may exist for falling short on the domestic front.

Anyone with questions or comments about "Copperfield" the film is welcome to email me. Anyone with questions about "Copperfield" the novel is better off asking Siri. Everyone is welcome to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.