David Copperfield


2h 10m 1935
David Copperfield

Brief Synopsis

Charles Dickens' classic tale of an orphaned boy's fight for happiness and the colorful characters who help and hinder him.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield, the Younger
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 18, 1935
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Canterbury,Great Britain; Malibu, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (London, 1849-50).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 10m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11,800ft (13 reels)

Synopsis

David Copperfield, born in England six months after the death of his father, is reared by his mother Clara and Nurse Peggotty. Time passes, and Clara is courted by Mr. Murdstone, a severe and domineering man who ingratiates himself to Clara but whom David and Nurse Peggotty dislike. When Nurse Peggotty takes David on a two-week visit to her family, he is told the story of how Dan Peggotty, the nurse's brother, adopted the orphaned Little Em'ly and her cousin Ham. Upon his return home, David learns that his mother has married Murdstone, and that Murdstone has dismissed Nurse Peggotty and replaced her with his sister Jane. Clara objects to Jane's presence, but Murdstone insists that she stay and scolds her for complaining. He then strikes David for not knowing his school lesson, and locks him in his room. When Clara dies in childbirth, Murdstone sends David to London, where he is to work and live under the supervision of the genial Wilkins Micawber. Micawber, frequently hounded by debt collectors, is soon arrested and put in debtor's prison. David is then placed under the guardianship of his aunt, Betsey Trotwood, who lives in Dover with her cousin, Mr. Dick. After completing his treacherous journey on foot to Dover, David meets his aunt and immediately takes a disliking to her. David is next sent to live with the Wickfields, a wealthy family headed by the alcoholic Mr. Wickfield. Wickfield's obsequious clerk, Uriah Heep, also lives in the house, as does Wickfield's daugther Agnes. Agnes falls in love with David following his return from studying at Canterbury, though he takes little notice of her. David soon realizes that during his absence Heep maneuvered himself into a position of power, and that Micawber is now employed by Heep. David next moves to London, where he intends to seek a job as a writer. In the city, he sees his old friend Steerforth, who accompanies him to the opera, where David meets and falls in love with a pretty girl named Dora. Shortly thereafter, Steerforth elopes to Italy with Em'ly, who had been engaged to Ham. Later, when Ham learns that Steerforth deserted Em'ly in Italy, he searches for her, but dies while attempting to rescue a man, who turns out to be Steerforth, from a capsized yacht. Following the publication of his short stories, David marries Dora, which causes Agnes distress, but the frail and emotional Dora later dies of a strange illness. At the Wickfields', David discovers that Heep has usurped so much power through his knavery, that he has threatened Mr. Wickfield in order to secure his consent to marry Agnes. Through Micawber's efforts, Heep is exposed as a villain in the presence of the Wickfields, Aunt Betsey and Mr. Dick. David's attentions then return to Agnes as he asserts his love for her.

Photo Collections

David Copperfield (1935) - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from MGM's David Copperfield (1935), produced by David O. Selznick with an all-star cast. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield, the Younger
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 18, 1935
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Canterbury,Great Britain; Malibu, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (London, 1849-50).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 10m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11,800ft (13 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Director

1936

Best Editing

1936

Best Picture

1936

Articles

David Copperfield (1935) - David Copperfield


In David Copperfield (1935), W.C. Fields got the rare chance to play a character that was a departure from his usual roles as the eternal curmudgeon. He wasn't first choice for the role, but won it thanks to the generosity - and insecurity - of Charles Laughton, his competition for the part.

Producer David O. Selznick had spearheaded the production, over the objections of his father-in-law and boss, MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer. Conventional Hollywood wisdom held that the classics were not suitable for the screen. But Selznick had a personal connection to David Copperfield. His father, producer Lewis Selznick, had used the book to learn English when he first emigrated from Russia, then read the story to his sons every night. So Selznick bombarded Mayer with memos for a year until he wore down his resistance.

At first Mayer wanted to cast the studio's leading child star, Jackie Cooper, in the title role. But Selznick and his director, George Cukor, thought he was too American. During a trip to scout locations in England (they only kept one shot made there), Cukor discovered a ten-year-old named Freddie Bartholomew. He had him dressed as David for his meeting with Selznick. Cukor ushered the young man into Selznick's office, where Bartholomew said, "Mr. Selznick, I am David Copperfield, sir." Selznick took one look at him and said, "Right you are."

There was only one problem with Bartholomew - his parents. The boy's aunt had brought him to Cukor, but his parents refused to let him sign for the film. So Cukor returned to Hollywood without his David. Talent scouts combed the U.S. to find the right boy with no luck. Shooting was a week away when Bartholomew showed up in Hollywood, again with his aunt. This led to major legal battles over his custody and MGM's right to sign him to a contract. At one point, the boy had just boarded a boat sailing from New York to England when a studio representative pulled him off with news that his contract had finally been approved by the British government.

It was almost as difficult casting Micawber, the eternal debtor who briefly provides David with a home. The front-runners for the role were Fields and Laughton, with Laughton finally picked because of his marquee power in England. He arrived on the set having researched the part painstakingly. He had even planned the character's look to match the book's original illustrations. But none of this had given him any confidence in the role. Laughton almost always had trouble finding his character during the first few days of filming, but always came through in the end. This time, however, he agonized between takes and had trouble remembering lines. By the end of his first week, Laughton begged to be let out of his contract. He even suggested that Fields would be the better choice for the role.

He was right. As Cukor would tell interviewer Gavin Lambert, "He [Fields] was really born to play it...that rare combination of the personality and the part...He was charming to work with, his suggestions and adlibs were always in character. There was a scene in which he had to sit at a desk writing, and he asked me if he could have a cup of tea on the desk. When he got agitated, he dipped his pen into the teacup instead of the inkwell. Another time he was sitting on a high stool and asked for a wastepaper basket so he could get his feet stuck in it. Physically he wasn't quite right, wasn't bald as Dickens describes Micawber - but his spirit was perfect."

Fields wasn't the only inspired choice. Bartholomew became a star with his performance as the young David. Edna May Oliver, cast as his crotchety Aunt Betsy, made British audiences forget that she was a New Englander. And Basil Rathbone firmly established himself as one of the screen's greatest villains with his performance as David's sadistic stepfather. Ultimately, the film proved Selznick right about the classics. It was MGM's biggest moneymaker of the year, bringing in an impressive $3.5 million on a high-for-the-time investment of just over $1 million. That success paved the way for Selznick to do even more large-scale adaptations, including his 1939 blockbuster Gone With the Wind.

Producer: David O. Selznick
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Howard Estabrook, Hugh Walpole
Based on the Novel by Charles Dickens
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: W.C. Fields (Micawber), Lionel Barrymore (Dan Peggotty), Maureen O'Sullivan (Dora), Madge Evans (Agnes), Edna May Oliver (Aunt Betsy), Lewis Stone (Mr. Wickfield), Frank Lawton (David as a Man), Freddie Bartholomew (David as a Child), Roland Young (Uriah Heep), Basil Rathbone (Mr. Murdstone), Elsa Lanchester (Clickett).
BW-131m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller
David Copperfield (1935) - David Copperfield

David Copperfield (1935) - David Copperfield

In David Copperfield (1935), W.C. Fields got the rare chance to play a character that was a departure from his usual roles as the eternal curmudgeon. He wasn't first choice for the role, but won it thanks to the generosity - and insecurity - of Charles Laughton, his competition for the part. Producer David O. Selznick had spearheaded the production, over the objections of his father-in-law and boss, MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer. Conventional Hollywood wisdom held that the classics were not suitable for the screen. But Selznick had a personal connection to David Copperfield. His father, producer Lewis Selznick, had used the book to learn English when he first emigrated from Russia, then read the story to his sons every night. So Selznick bombarded Mayer with memos for a year until he wore down his resistance. At first Mayer wanted to cast the studio's leading child star, Jackie Cooper, in the title role. But Selznick and his director, George Cukor, thought he was too American. During a trip to scout locations in England (they only kept one shot made there), Cukor discovered a ten-year-old named Freddie Bartholomew. He had him dressed as David for his meeting with Selznick. Cukor ushered the young man into Selznick's office, where Bartholomew said, "Mr. Selznick, I am David Copperfield, sir." Selznick took one look at him and said, "Right you are." There was only one problem with Bartholomew - his parents. The boy's aunt had brought him to Cukor, but his parents refused to let him sign for the film. So Cukor returned to Hollywood without his David. Talent scouts combed the U.S. to find the right boy with no luck. Shooting was a week away when Bartholomew showed up in Hollywood, again with his aunt. This led to major legal battles over his custody and MGM's right to sign him to a contract. At one point, the boy had just boarded a boat sailing from New York to England when a studio representative pulled him off with news that his contract had finally been approved by the British government. It was almost as difficult casting Micawber, the eternal debtor who briefly provides David with a home. The front-runners for the role were Fields and Laughton, with Laughton finally picked because of his marquee power in England. He arrived on the set having researched the part painstakingly. He had even planned the character's look to match the book's original illustrations. But none of this had given him any confidence in the role. Laughton almost always had trouble finding his character during the first few days of filming, but always came through in the end. This time, however, he agonized between takes and had trouble remembering lines. By the end of his first week, Laughton begged to be let out of his contract. He even suggested that Fields would be the better choice for the role. He was right. As Cukor would tell interviewer Gavin Lambert, "He [Fields] was really born to play it...that rare combination of the personality and the part...He was charming to work with, his suggestions and adlibs were always in character. There was a scene in which he had to sit at a desk writing, and he asked me if he could have a cup of tea on the desk. When he got agitated, he dipped his pen into the teacup instead of the inkwell. Another time he was sitting on a high stool and asked for a wastepaper basket so he could get his feet stuck in it. Physically he wasn't quite right, wasn't bald as Dickens describes Micawber - but his spirit was perfect." Fields wasn't the only inspired choice. Bartholomew became a star with his performance as the young David. Edna May Oliver, cast as his crotchety Aunt Betsy, made British audiences forget that she was a New Englander. And Basil Rathbone firmly established himself as one of the screen's greatest villains with his performance as David's sadistic stepfather. Ultimately, the film proved Selznick right about the classics. It was MGM's biggest moneymaker of the year, bringing in an impressive $3.5 million on a high-for-the-time investment of just over $1 million. That success paved the way for Selznick to do even more large-scale adaptations, including his 1939 blockbuster Gone With the Wind. Producer: David O. Selznick Director: George Cukor Screenplay: Howard Estabrook, Hugh Walpole Based on the Novel by Charles Dickens Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons Music: Herbert Stothart Cast: W.C. Fields (Micawber), Lionel Barrymore (Dan Peggotty), Maureen O'Sullivan (Dora), Madge Evans (Agnes), Edna May Oliver (Aunt Betsy), Lewis Stone (Mr. Wickfield), Frank Lawton (David as a Man), Freddie Bartholomew (David as a Child), Roland Young (Uriah Heep), Basil Rathbone (Mr. Murdstone), Elsa Lanchester (Clickett). BW-131m. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Motion Picture Masterpieces - MOTION PICTURE MASTERPIECES - 5 MGM Favorites on DVD Including "David Copperfield" & "Pride and Prejudice"


Motion Picture Masterpieces, a five-disc DVD set from Warner Home Video, has a misleading title. Although its five MGM productions are based on great novels, none of the movies are equally great, and only a couple come anywhere near masterpiece quality. The set is fun to watch, and fans of MGM's lavish 1930s style will have a ball. (This could have been called a Cedric Gibbons Festival, since he did the art direction for every film.) But it's also a reminder that the best screen adaptations usually come from second-rate books-and even tenth-rate ones-that filmmakers aren't afraid to tamper with for cinematic purposes.

Hollywood's first movie version of Pride and Prejudice, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and released in 1940, has never been topped. One reason is superb production work by art director Cedric Gibbons, costume designers Adrian and Gile Steele, and cinematographer Karl Freund, who forgoes his German Expressionist roots to capture exquisite images of England in the early 19th century. The film's other big triumph is its cast, topped by Greer Garson as lively, lovely Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as her prideful suitor Mr. Darcy, an ideal role that elicited one of his most restrained and refined performances. The movie adds gimmicky episodes for visual excitement-a carriage race, an archery contest-and sugar-coats the ending. But it's terrific entertainment anyway.

Marie Antoinette, directed by W.S. Van Dyke in 1938, turns the MGM design team loose on the sumptuous Versailles Palace in 18th-century France, where our heroine copes with a hapless husband, falls for a Swedish aristocrat, outgrows youthful irresponsibility to become a compassionate queen, and faces the guillotine after the French Revolution erupts. Norma Shearer is excellent in the title role. Tyrone Power plays the underwritten Count Axel with elegance and charm. And many scenes get stolen by Robert Morley as the Dauphin, a tragicomic character who's heading for the throne but can't figure out how to consummate his marriage. This opulent production is more conventional than the 2006 remake by Sofia Coppola, but just as absorbing. MGM had a flair for the French Revolution, giving it even stronger treatment in Jack Conway's marvelous 1935 version of Charles Dickens's novel A Tale of Two Cities, starring Ronald Colman as the self-sacrificing hero. It's also in the Masterpieces set.

It's hard to beat the story of Treasure Island, with brave young Jim Hawkins setting sail on a pirate-infested ship in search of the legendary Captain Flint's buried hoard of gold and jewels. The best asset of MGM's uneven 1934 version is the supporting cast, especially Nigel Bruce as likable Squire Trelawney and Lionel Barrymore as Captain Billy Bones, the rowdy buccaneer who sets the tale in motion. The leads are less impressive, owing to MGM's not-so-great idea of re-teaming the stars of The Champ, a big hit three years earlier. Jackie Cooper expostulates "Bless my soul!" so often you want to hang him from the yardarm, and Wallace Beery makes Long John Silver more cuddly than a self-respecting pirate would ever want to be. The adventure was directed by Victor Fleming, and there's little to suggest he was just five years away from putting his signature on Gone With the Wind in 1939.

The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield, the Younger, released in 1935, has always gotten extra points for featuring W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber, a role he was born to play. In other respects, though, this is one of Hollywood's weaker Charles Dickens adaptations, and one of George Cukor's least memorable directing achievements. Picturesque posing carries more weight than sharp character sketching, and the atmosphere of Victorian England rarely comes alive. Solid work by Basil Rathbone and Jessie Ralph, as Mr. Murdstone and Nurse Peggotty, is overshadowed by lackluster acting from the likes of Roland Young and Lewis Stone, whose Uriah Heep and Mr. Wickfield make sadly wan impressions. Even the inimitable Fields gets weighed down by the screenplay, which cares more about the novel's catch-phrases than the context they need. What should have been a sparkling comedy-drama becomes a period piece that seems longer than its title, which at least has a truly Dickensian ring.

Each of the five Motion Picture Masterpieces discs has offbeat DVD extras. Some are connected with the features-versions of David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities made for 1930s radio-but the most fascinating are unrelated MGM shorts and animations from the period. Shorts like Two Hearts in Wax Time, about a drunk and a pair of mannequins, and The Spectacle Maker, about a magic monocle, are so bizarre it's hard to imagine what the filmmakers could have been thinking of. Ditto for a cartoon like Poor Little Me, starring Stinky, a skunk. There's also an "oddity" from Pete Smith that will make you look at stunt bowling in a whole new way, if you've ever looked at it in the first place. Singular items like these are worth the DVD price by themselves.

For more information about Motion Picture Masterpieces, visit Warner Video. To order Motion Picture Masterpieces, go to TCM Shopping.

by Mikita Brottman and David Sterritt

Motion Picture Masterpieces - MOTION PICTURE MASTERPIECES - 5 MGM Favorites on DVD Including "David Copperfield" & "Pride and Prejudice"

Motion Picture Masterpieces, a five-disc DVD set from Warner Home Video, has a misleading title. Although its five MGM productions are based on great novels, none of the movies are equally great, and only a couple come anywhere near masterpiece quality. The set is fun to watch, and fans of MGM's lavish 1930s style will have a ball. (This could have been called a Cedric Gibbons Festival, since he did the art direction for every film.) But it's also a reminder that the best screen adaptations usually come from second-rate books-and even tenth-rate ones-that filmmakers aren't afraid to tamper with for cinematic purposes. Hollywood's first movie version of Pride and Prejudice, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and released in 1940, has never been topped. One reason is superb production work by art director Cedric Gibbons, costume designers Adrian and Gile Steele, and cinematographer Karl Freund, who forgoes his German Expressionist roots to capture exquisite images of England in the early 19th century. The film's other big triumph is its cast, topped by Greer Garson as lively, lovely Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as her prideful suitor Mr. Darcy, an ideal role that elicited one of his most restrained and refined performances. The movie adds gimmicky episodes for visual excitement-a carriage race, an archery contest-and sugar-coats the ending. But it's terrific entertainment anyway. Marie Antoinette, directed by W.S. Van Dyke in 1938, turns the MGM design team loose on the sumptuous Versailles Palace in 18th-century France, where our heroine copes with a hapless husband, falls for a Swedish aristocrat, outgrows youthful irresponsibility to become a compassionate queen, and faces the guillotine after the French Revolution erupts. Norma Shearer is excellent in the title role. Tyrone Power plays the underwritten Count Axel with elegance and charm. And many scenes get stolen by Robert Morley as the Dauphin, a tragicomic character who's heading for the throne but can't figure out how to consummate his marriage. This opulent production is more conventional than the 2006 remake by Sofia Coppola, but just as absorbing. MGM had a flair for the French Revolution, giving it even stronger treatment in Jack Conway's marvelous 1935 version of Charles Dickens's novel A Tale of Two Cities, starring Ronald Colman as the self-sacrificing hero. It's also in the Masterpieces set. It's hard to beat the story of Treasure Island, with brave young Jim Hawkins setting sail on a pirate-infested ship in search of the legendary Captain Flint's buried hoard of gold and jewels. The best asset of MGM's uneven 1934 version is the supporting cast, especially Nigel Bruce as likable Squire Trelawney and Lionel Barrymore as Captain Billy Bones, the rowdy buccaneer who sets the tale in motion. The leads are less impressive, owing to MGM's not-so-great idea of re-teaming the stars of The Champ, a big hit three years earlier. Jackie Cooper expostulates "Bless my soul!" so often you want to hang him from the yardarm, and Wallace Beery makes Long John Silver more cuddly than a self-respecting pirate would ever want to be. The adventure was directed by Victor Fleming, and there's little to suggest he was just five years away from putting his signature on Gone With the Wind in 1939. The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield, the Younger, released in 1935, has always gotten extra points for featuring W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber, a role he was born to play. In other respects, though, this is one of Hollywood's weaker Charles Dickens adaptations, and one of George Cukor's least memorable directing achievements. Picturesque posing carries more weight than sharp character sketching, and the atmosphere of Victorian England rarely comes alive. Solid work by Basil Rathbone and Jessie Ralph, as Mr. Murdstone and Nurse Peggotty, is overshadowed by lackluster acting from the likes of Roland Young and Lewis Stone, whose Uriah Heep and Mr. Wickfield make sadly wan impressions. Even the inimitable Fields gets weighed down by the screenplay, which cares more about the novel's catch-phrases than the context they need. What should have been a sparkling comedy-drama becomes a period piece that seems longer than its title, which at least has a truly Dickensian ring. Each of the five Motion Picture Masterpieces discs has offbeat DVD extras. Some are connected with the features-versions of David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities made for 1930s radio-but the most fascinating are unrelated MGM shorts and animations from the period. Shorts like Two Hearts in Wax Time, about a drunk and a pair of mannequins, and The Spectacle Maker, about a magic monocle, are so bizarre it's hard to imagine what the filmmakers could have been thinking of. Ditto for a cartoon like Poor Little Me, starring Stinky, a skunk. There's also an "oddity" from Pete Smith that will make you look at stunt bowling in a whole new way, if you've ever looked at it in the first place. Singular items like these are worth the DVD price by themselves. For more information about Motion Picture Masterpieces, visit Warner Video. To order Motion Picture Masterpieces, go to TCM Shopping. by Mikita Brottman and David Sterritt

Quotes

Trivia

Freddie Bartholomew's first American film.

Notes

The Charles Dickens novel on which this film is based was published in London in twenty monthly installments between May 1849 and November 1850. Although the title of the film was often abbreviated to David Copperfield in contemporary reviews and news items, the full title, as it appeared on the screen, was The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield, the Younger. According to the correspondence of producer David O. Selznick between March and April 1934, Selznick originally wanted to film the entire picture in England, and later wanted to make two complete pictures out of the story. Releasing two pictures instead of one was estimated to cost an additional $100,000. According to production information furnished by the studio's publicity department, over the course of a year, seven scenarios were written and discarded before one was finally considered ideal for the story. Three unacceptable scenarios were written before Cukor and scenarist Howard Estabrook decided to travel to England to become better acquainted with the Dickensian scene.
       Contemporary Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that the film was previewed in a short version (perhaps 110 minutes, as listed in Daily Variety) and a long version (133 minutes). A biography of Selznick notes that studio head Louis B. Mayer requested that the film be cut following a negative audience response to the first preview, which was held in Bakersfield, CA. Selznick cut two reels from the picture by eliminating Lionel Barrymore's role. At a Santa Ana, CA, preview of the cut version, Selznick reportedly interviewed four women, all schoolteachers who had seen the film, and based his decision to retain the longer version on their objections to the omission of the Peggotty character.
       According to a Daily Variety pre-production news item, as an exploitation stunt, M-G-M asked Dickens societies throughout the world to suggest actors and actresses whom they would like to see in the picture. Similarly, in May 1934, the News Chronicle, a London newspaper, assembled a panel of Dickens experts from the Dickens Fellowship to confer with a group of film experts for the purpose of judging the paper's £550 David Copperfield Contest. The contest, which was presided over by the president of the Dickensians, Alfred Noyes, invited readers of the journal to submit their choices for the ideal casting of the film. The nominated players were then debated by the judges and voted upon. Among the ten judges on the film panel were David O. Selznick and George Cukor. Hugh Walpole, a Dickens Fellowship vice-president, served on the eight member literary panel. Of the 161,000 entries, the jury selected the following ideal cast: Leslie Howard as David Copperfield; Cedric Hardwicke as Micawber; Donald Calthrop as Uriah Heep; May Robson as Aunt Betsy; Gordon Harker as Barkis; Elizabeth Allan as Dora; Diana Wynyard as Agnes; Victoria Hopper as Little Em'ly; Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Mrs. Micawber; Fredric March as Steerforth; and Edmund Gwenn as Mr. Peggotty.
       Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter pre-production news articles spoke of the enormous effort M-G-M undertook to find four children to play David Copperfield and Little Em'ly at various ages. Studio ads led to the recruitment of over three hundred children, of whom M-G-M found only six who could speak with the required cultured accent. Though the second prerequisite, that the child be of British birth, was met by none of the applicants, the studio announced that it would assign the six finalists to bit parts. Among the many boys who were considered for the title role were David Holt, who was to be borrowed from Paramount, and an English boy named Peter Trent. Two days prior to the start of production, Daily Variety reported that the studio was unable to confirm that Freddie Bartholomew would play the young David because Bartholomew's father refused to sign the boy's permit to leave England. In case the Bartholomew deal fell through, M-G-M kept David Holt available for the part and continued to teach him how to speak with an English accent. Some contemporary sources claimed that between nine and ten thousand young boys from America, Canada, England and every English-speaking colony were interviewed for the title role. According to a modern biography of Selznick, after failing to dissuade Selznick from making the picture, Louis Mayer asked that American child actor and M-G-M contract star Jackie Cooper be cast in the title role. An advertisement placed in the September 1, 1934 issue of Hollywood Filmograph stated that Jackie Morrow was being considered for the lead in the picture. For the remaining parts, more than 15,000 actors were interviewed and over 2,000 screen tests were made.
       Charles Laughton played Micawber for two days before the studio released him from the part. Sources conflict, however, as to the details surrounding the release of Laughton from the picture: According to Hollywood Reporter pre-release news items, Laughton expressed his desire to "turn over his role to another" because he felt he could not do the part justice. In contrast, a September 27, 1934 Selznick memo suggests that it was a combination of the cost incurred from Laughton's delay on his Paramount picture due to his illness, and "certain difficulties" M-G-M was having with him that led to his dismissal. A biography of George Cukor notes that Laughton had "a terrific prejudice concerning Jews and needed strange off-stage noises to get him in the mood for acting." According to a biography of W. C. Fields, before replacing Laughton with Fields, the studio had considered M-G-M contract player Wallace Beery for the part, but Beery was unable to take it because his wife was gravely ill at the time. Although Selznick, in his letters, expressed his concern that Fields might not have as much commercial appeal as Laughton, the producer said that "Fields would probably make a better Micawber." A Hollywood Reporter news item notes that following Laughton's release, Paramount asked M-G-M to pay for the delay on Ruggles of Red Gap, which had to be held up because Laughton, the film's star, was returned to the studio with a shaved head.
       According to Hollywood Reporter, filming on David Copperfield began with three units, the main one directed by George Cukor; the other two by John Waters and Slavko Vorkapich. Daily Variety notes that a fourth unit, directed by Leontine Sagan, a female director from Germany, was added later. Hollywood Reporter production charts and pre-release news items list actors Forrester Harvey, Edith Kingdon, Dallas Welford, Barlowe Borland and J. M. Kerrigan in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been determined. The Variety, New York Times and Motion Picture Herald reviews erroneously list Ivan Simpson's character at Limmiter, perhaps the result of a misspelling of the character in the M-G-M publicity material. A biography of W. C. Fields claims that the actor had such great difficulty memorizing his lines that they had to be "written out for him on a great gazebo so that he could glance at them." Also, Fields apparently had difficulty maintaining a strictly dramatic role (his first), and was known to ad-lib comedic touches, most of which ended up on the cutting room floor. A Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item indicates that Cukor shot four and one half days of retakes of scenes involving Una O'Connor, who was out of production for three weeks due to a horse riding accident.
       Although onscreen credits list only Herbert Stothart as the composer of the musical score, Dr. William Axt, who is incorrectly credited in the M-G-M publicity material as the sole composer of the musical score, is credited with Stothart in various scenes in M-G-M's cutting continuity in the copyright files. A November 6, 1934 Daily Variety news item notes that Dr. William Axt was hired to find one hundred year old English tunes for the film. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item credits the Western Costume Company with the costumes, M-G-M publicity material notes that the costumers were L. and H. Nathan, the same London costuming company that made the costumes under Dickens's personal supervision nearly one hundred years earlier. A contemporary news article in Picturegoer magazine, entitled Bringing Dickens to Life, notes the creation of seventy-three different locations for the action of the story, and states that the original sketches of the set details, drawn by the artist Phiz., were viewed under a microscope and duplicated by the studio foundry. The Phiz. drawings were also consulted for wardrobe and casting purposes. Nathalie Bucknall, head of M-G-M's research department, was assisted in her task by ten researchers stationed in England, as well as a team of photographers, both still and camera, who were dispatched to various English locations, including Yarmouth, Blunderstone, Dover, Canterbury and London. Large quantities of photographs, old books, costumes, sketches and other items gathered in England for research purposes, were shipped to California.
Following the film's release, a Daily Variety article reported that the Hays Office planned to send out two thousand postcards to women's clubs and religious leaders, plugging the film. The postcard mailing was related to the Hays Office's ongoing campaign to promote filmgoing as an institution. The plan was aimed at publicizing this picture and all subsequent pictures that might "help the industry as a whole." In a biography of George Cukor, the director recalled that only one sequence, a second-unit shot of David walking to Canterbury, was filmed in England, and that the Dover scenes were filmed in California, near Malibu.
       Assistant director Joseph Newman and film editor Robert J. Kern both received Academy Award nominations for their work. The film itself received a nomination for Best Picture. David Copperfield was one of the top ten grossing films of 1935 and was named one of Film Daily's Ten Best Pictures of the Year.
       Previous David Copperfield films include a 1911 Thanhouser three-part short directed by Theodore Marston and starring Flora Foster, Ed Genung and Anna Seer, and a 1923 Nordisk Film Corp. of Norway feature directed by A. W. Sandberg and starring Buddy Martin and Gorm Smidd. Subsequent adaptations include a British television movie directed by Delbert Mann and starring Laurence Olivier, Robin Phillips and Michael Redgrave, which aired on the NBC television network on March 15, 1970; and a BBC/Masterpiece Theatre five part teleplay produced and directed by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts and starring Colin Hurley and Simon Callow, which was broadcast begining March 27, 1988. In addition, a radio dramatization of David Copperfield, featuring Boris Karloff, Cyril Ritchard and Richard Burton, aired on December 24, 1950.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1935

Broadcast over TNT (colorized version) October 12, 1988.

Released in United States 1935