David Copperfield (1935 film)

David Copperfield

1935 US theatrical poster
Directed by George Cukor
Produced by David O. Selznick
Written by Hugh Walpole (adaptation)
Screenplay by Howard Estabrook
Lenore J. Coffee (uncredited)
Based on the 1850 novel
David Copperfield
by Charles Dickens
Starring W. C. Fields
Lionel Barrymore
Madge Evans
Maureen O'Sullivan
Edna May Oliver
Lewis Stone
Frank Lawton
Elizabeth Allan
Roland Young
Music by Herbert Stothart
William Axt (uncredited)
Cinematography Oliver T. Marsh
Edited by Robert Kern
Distributed by Loew's Inc.
Release dates
  • January 18, 1935 (1935-01-18) (US)
Running time
129 or 133 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,073,000[1][2]
Box office $1,621,000 (Domestic earnings)[1][2]
$1,348,000 (Foreign earnings)[1]

David Copperfield is a 1935 American film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer based upon the Charles Dickens novel The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger. A number of characters and incidents from the novel were omitted – notably David's time at Salem House boarding school, although one character he met at Salem House (Steerforth) was retained for the film as a head boy at the school David attended after his aunt Betsey Trotwood gained custody of him.

The story was adapted by Hugh Walpole from the Dickens novel, and the film was directed by George Cukor from a screenplay by Howard Estabrook and Lenore J. Coffee, who was not credited.


David O. Selznick dearly wanted to film David Copperfield, as his Russian father Lewis J. Selznick had learned English through it, and read it to his sons every night. After failing to dissuade Selznick from the project, Louis B. Mayer, his father-in-law and employer, agreed that MGM would underwrite the production provided his star child contract actor, Jackie Cooper, was cast in the role of the young David. Selznick fought to remain true to the novel's origins and prevailed, and the role went to Freddie Bartholomew after an extensive talent search in Canada and Great Britain by Selznick and George Cukor.

Cedric Gibbons designed a recreation of 19th century London on the MGM backlot.[3] The scenes set outside Aunt Betsey's house atop the white cliffs of Dover were filmed at Malibu. MGM even filmed the exterior of Canterbury Cathedral, which only appears in the film for less than a minute. Special effects, including many matte shots, were by Slavko Vorkapić.[3]

Charles Laughton was originally cast in the role of Mr. Micawber, and was authentically made-up with a bald cap, since Dickens describes the character as hairless. After two days of work, he disliked his performance in the dailies and asked to be replaced.[4] It was said at the time that "he looked as though he were about to molest the child." Selznick let him go, and Laughton recommended comedian and Dickens scholar W. C. Fields for the part, who was borrowed from Paramount Pictures. A clause in Fields' contract stated that he had to play the part with a British accent, but as he had difficulty learning the lines he had to read off cue cards and thus speaks in his own accent in the role. His defense: "My father was an Englishman and I inherited this accent from him! Are you trying to go against nature?!" This is the only film where Fields doesn't ad lib, and he plays the character in a straightforward manner (although he did want to add a juggling sequence, and when this was denied, an anecdote about snakes, which was also denied). Director George Cukor said that when Fields did make a suggestion for a visual bit, such as accidentally dipping his quill in a teacup instead of an inkwell, it was always within the parameters of the character. The result was one of the finest performances of that year.[4]


Mr. Micawber (played by W. C. Fields) addresses young David Copperfield (Freddie Bartholomew).

(in order of appearance)

Cast notes:


The film was well-received upon its release in January 1935. Andre Sennwald of The New York Times called it "the most profoundly satisfying screen manipulation of a great novel the camera has ever given us."[5] Variety wrote that it had "one of the most evenly good casts ever to have been assembled", with staging and costumes that were "almost always excellent."[6] John Mosher of The New Yorker found the first half of the film "one of the superb things of the movies" and the second half more conventional, though "all of it is good." Mosher also praised the casting and opined that Freddie Bartholemew put on "one of the prettiest performances ever given on the screen by a youngster."[7] David Copperfield topped the Film Daily year-end poll of 451 critics around the country as the best film of 1935.[8]

David Copperfield was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Academy Award for Best Picture (losing out to Mutiny on the Bounty), Best Film Editing, and Best Assistant Director (Joseph M. Newman), and was nominated for the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival (losing out to Anna Karenina).

According to MGM records the film earned $2,969,000 at the box office worldwide and made a profit of $686,000.[2][9]

There were several notable differences in the film from the book. For instance, in the film David never attends Salem House boarding school, and so the characters he met there do not appear, with the exception of Steerforth, who instead made his appearance as head boy of David's school he attended after going to live with Betsey Trotwood.

It is still shown in many countries on television at Christmas. It is rated with four out of four stars every year in Halliwell's Film Guide.

This was selected by The New York Times as one of the 1000 greatest movies ever made.

In another significant film, Gone with the Wind, which was also produced by Selznick, Melanie Wilkes (Olivia de Havilland) reads aloud from the novel David Copperfield while she waits for the vigilantes to come home from the raid. In Margaret Mitchell's novel, Melanie actually read Les Misérables at this point.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Glancy, H. Mark When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939-1945 (Manchester University Press, 1999)
  2. 1 2 3 The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  3. 1 2 Deschner, Donald (1966). The Films of W. C. Fields. New York: Cadillac Publishing by arrangement with The Citadel Press. p. 106.
  4. 1 2 Higham, Charles (Dec 1994) [1993]. Merchant of Dreams: Louis B. Mayer, M.G.M., and the Secret Hollywood (paperback ed.). Dell Publishing. p. 261. ISBN 0-440-22066-1.
  5. Sennwald, Andre (January 19, 1935). "Movie Review – David Copperfield". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  6. "David Copperfield". Variety. New York: 14. January 22, 1935.
  7. Mosher, John (January 26, 1935). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. pp. 64–65.
  8. ""Copperfield" Heads 1935 'Ten Best'". Film Daily. New York. January 9, 1936. p. 1. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
  9. David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 gives a slightly different figure p 188

External links

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