From the opening scene (David’s birth during a windy storm) onward, this is funny and fantastic. Great acting + production from the artist Cukor and the mighty David O. Selznick. The quality of light is especially mesmerizing, and the sets held my attention as much as the performances.
That’s no slight on the performances. Professional child actor Freddie Bartholomew (Anna Karenina) plays David for the first half (passable Frank Lawton for the second half) and does very well. Occasionally he falls into that annoying overly-cute-and-naive groove that child actors rode for the first fifty years of Hollywood, but when asked to convey feeling he does a better job than most of the grown-ups.
Edna May Oliver (the red queen in ’33 “alice in wonderland”) as DC’s aunt, who opens the picture, disappears, then returns in the second half.
W.C. Fields as DC’s broke landlord turned assistant at the law offices.
Lennox Pawle (died the following year) as idiot savant Mr. Dick.
Maureen O’Sullivan (“the tall t”, famous for playing tarzan’s jane) as DC’s sickly child bride.
Madge Evans (romantic lead in “hallelujah i’m a bum” and bing crosby’s “pennies from heaven”) as Agnes, the girl DC is supposed to end up with.
Basil Rathbone (pointy-faced sherlock holmes) as evil stepdad Mr. Murdstone
Jessie Ralph (40+ films in the 30’s incl. “les miserables”) as Nurse Peggotty
Three of these actors would star together in Tod Browning’s “Devil Doll” the next year.
I missed “The Informer” actress Una O’Connor and “It’s a Wonderful Life” co-star Lionel Barrymore. Either too many actors to keep straight, or their scenes were during the ice cream break.
The giant novel is obviously very compressed to fit a two-hour movie. Katy says whole characters and eras and episodes are missing. It worked just fine for me, knowing I was watching a condensed version (if it’d been a standalone movie with no giant novel behind it, I might think it underdeveloped). Each character gets enough of a defining introduction scene so we remember him when he pops up later in the story… and it helps that the actors all look as distinctive as they do. I thought the movie was great. Katy half-watched and helped me connect story threads.
The only other features I’ve seen from 1935 are “The 39 Steps” and “Bride of Frankenstein”, both wonderful. “Mutiny on the Bounty” beat this out for best picture.