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FILM : Unerringly True to Dickens

September 06, 1990|ELISABETH GRAHAM

Director George Cukor's 1935 adaptation of Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield" is sparked by a wealth of memorable performances and old-fashioned Hollywood glamour.

As entertaining as it is uneven, "David Copperfield" (screening at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center on Friday, Sept. 7) only lightly suggests the harder aspects of the novel but is unerringly true to Dickens' characters. The uncommon rightness of the casting is still impressive and the performances, suitably caricatured but always human, are often surprising in their audacity. For Dickens fans and movie fans alike, there is a trove of riches.

The word definitive applies to several portrayals, namely Basil Rathbone's Mr. Murdstone, Jessie Ralph's Peggotty, Maureen O'Sullivan's Dora and Edna May Oliver's Aunt Betsey. Roland Young, one of Hollywood's very best rogues, abandons his charm completely to make Uriah Heep a masterpiece of bizarre vocalization and sinuous gesture.

Most memorable of all is W.C. Fields as Micawber, an instance where a role's demands and an actor's gifts achieve a harmony seldom seen. Both Freddie Bartholomew and Frank Lawton--as a boy and adult David, respectively--manage to be as winning as possible, considering the scenery chewing going on all around them.

The film unfolds episodically, as does the novel, and trusts the book's inherent eccentricities, occasional awkwardness and, most of all, its sentimentality. Even Fields, a performer certainly not known for warm rapport with fellow actors, is a marvel of understated empathy as be bids David to "come, little friend, open your heart."

An elaborate exhibit of the parts being greater than the whole, "David Copperfield" is chockablock with choice moments. It remains a living tribute to producer David O. Selznick's perfectionism and Cukor's unsurpassed ability to draw the best from the best.

What: "David Copperfield."

When: Friday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton.

Whereabouts: Take the Riverside Freeway to Euclid Street, head north on Malvern, then go west.

Wherewithal: $5 to $6.

Where To Call: (714) 738-6595.

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