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David Copperfield

Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Cukor
Produced by David O. Selznick
Written by Novel:
Charles Dickens
Hugh Walpole
Howard Estabrook
Lenore J. Coffee
Starring W. C. Fields
Lionel Barrymore
Freddie Bartholomew
Maureen O'Sullivan
Basil Rathbone
Music by Herbert Stothart
William Axt
Cinematography Oliver T. Marsh
Editing by Robert Kern
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) December 18, 1935 (1935-12-18)
Running time 130 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger (usually shortened to David Copperfield) is a 1935 American film based upon the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield. Although quite a few characters and incidents from the novel were omitted - notably David's time at Salem House boarding school - the spirit of the book and the period were captured well.

The film was adapted by Hugh Walpole, Howard Estabrook and Lenore J. Coffee from the Dickens novel, and directed by George Cukor.


Cast (in order of appearance)

Hugh Walpole, the screenplay writer, has a cameo role as the vicar. Arthur Treacher, after whom Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips is named, has a cameo as the man with the donkey who steals young David's money, forcing him to walk from London to Dover. Screen legend Elsa Lanchester had a cameo as Clickett, Mr. Micawber's servant.


David O. Selznick dearly wanted to film David Copperfield, as his Russian father Lewis J. Selznick had learned the English language through it, and read it to his sons every night.

A recreation of 19th century London was constructed in the MGM backlot. 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.

Charles Laughton was originally cast in the role of Mr. Micawber. After two days of work, he disliked his performance in the dailies and asked to be replaced.[1] 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 (although he did want to add a juggling sequence, and when this was denied, an anecdote about snakes, which was also denied). The result was one of the finest performances of that year.[1]


The film was well-received on its release in January 1935. One New York Times critic called it "The most profoundly satisfying screen manipulation of a great novel the camera has ever given us". It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Academy Award for Best Picture (losing out to Mutiny on the Bounty), and was nominated for the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival (losing out to Anna Karenina).

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.


  1. ^ a b 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.  

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