Dickens, like Shakespeare, would have loved the movies. With the right actors, he could have made his amazing gallery of characters jump off the page and cavort before us in person. It's no surprise that many of his works have been adapted for film -- and mostly peopled by British actors.
Last night the 1935 "David Copperfield" was screened by the Library of Congress as part of its month-long program on Dickens in TV and film. Surely anyone who saw the picture as a child never forgot Basil Rathbone as the terrifying Mr. Murdstone. (Even years of Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes couldn't quite erase that cold smile, those slitted eyes.)
And Edna May Oliver, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, the very young Freddie Bartholomew . . . and W.C. Fields revealing a new side of himself as Mr. Micawber: Some of those scenes stay with one for life.
It was an MGM film, the kind "they don't make anymore," with painstaking production values and a respectful script by Hugh Walpole. As with many a Dickens adaptation done in Hollywood, British expatriates were sprinkled through the cast.
There's something about those English faces. One recalls "Great Expectations," screened earlier this month, and the rarely seen version of "Pickwick Papers," with practically every British character actor you could remember.
The series continues at the Mary Pickford Theater in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. The first two parts of "Hard Times" will be seen Thursday at 7:30 p.m., the last two Friday at 7:30. Saturday at 1 p.m., the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol" will be offered: Adults must be accompanied by children and vice versa.
Next week: "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" (1935) on Dec. 17, and "A Tale of Two Cities" (1958) on Dec. 19, both at 7:30 p.m.; the 1970 "Scrooge" will be shown at 1 p.m. on Dec. 21. On Dec. 28 at 1, Movies for Children will present "Oliver!"
An exhibit in the theater lobby includes Dickens memorabilia and excerpts from the popular radio version of "A Christmas Carol" with Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore.