Saturday, December 18, 2010

Charles Dickens

IMDb currently lists 298 titles credited to the novels, stories, and characters of Charles Dickens. Everyone knows Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol and most have heard the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities even if they haven't read it - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Fitting with the scope of this blog, I'm going to mention only the four Dickens movies that were nominated for best picture. The classic musical Oliver! won best picture in 1968. Acclaimed director David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) gave us the 1946 version of Great Expectations with a cast that included Alec Guinness and a young Jean Simmons. The two I watched this week were David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities, both credited as 1935 releases, though the later was late enough to belong to the 1936 Oscar nominee class.

David Copperfield is listed on IMDb with its full title The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger. As ambitious as that is, it still truncates the full novel title that continues, "of Blunderstone Rookery, Which He Never Meant to Be Published on Any Account."

I was not familiar with this story going in, but I’d call it a successful adaptation in that it did not feel rushed or awkward, nor did it drag at all. A credit to both Dickens and the film is that all of the characters were interesting, even the bit parts. W.C. Fields is especially fun as the amiable Micawber who has trouble paying his debts. The film was directed by George Cukor who directed the version of Little Women I have already reviewed on this blog. He later won best director for My Fair Lady. The best compliment I can pay this film is that it has made me want to tackle the 900+ page behemoth that inspired it despite Dickens’s often cumbersome prose.

A Tale of Two Cities is a book I have read. I found it dull at the beginning, but captivating once all the tracks Dickens laid started coming together. The movie does a better job of explaining the situation up front, though it foreshadows Sydney Carton’s great sacrifice far more than I remember in the book. I also did not remember any one character standing out as the protagonist in the novel, but Carton is definitely the lead in the film. He is played by Ronald Colman. Colman later won a best actor Oscar for A Double Life, which I have not seen, but I thought he was great in Random Harvest, a best picture nominee I saw before starting this blog.

Again, this is just a taste of the influence Dickens has had on movies and storytelling in general. 140 years after his death, Hollywood could still take more lessons from him. It’s amazing what can happen when engaging plots are populated with memorable characters.

88 to go…

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