Charles Dickens did not write with the idea of being dramatized. The strange charm of his characters is more important than the fidelity of his characterizations. It was almost an adventure to try to bring to the screen the expansively optimistic Micawber, but he lives again in W.C. Fields, who only once yields to his penchant for horseplay. In the main he makes Micawber as real as David. The same may be said for Edna May Oliver, who does low comedy in the high comedy manner and shows flashes of the underlying tenderness of Aunt Betsey.
The adapters have not always been as successful. Now and then they linger too elaborately in a scene and they put the play completely off the track in introducing the mechanically melodramatic shipwreck scene, which might easily have been left undone.
Lionel Barrymore, as Dan Peggotty, proves again that it is possible to wear chin whiskers and still not be a comic, and Herbert Mundin does well by the willing Barkis.
A fine performance is that of Freddie Bartholomew as the child David. He is acceptable in his more quiet moments, but in times of stress he seems to be spurred up to the situation, and with Basil Rathbone, the Murdstone, he raises the whipping scene to a high point. Rathbone is not as happily cast as the others. Frank Lawton is a believable grown David and Maureen O’Sullivan, Madge Evans and Elizabeth Allan, as the three chief women, all rate bows.
1935: Nominations: Best Picture, Editing, Assistant Director (Joseph Newman)