David Copperfield ★★★½

How you feel about Cukor's adaptation of Little Women is, more than likely, exactly how you'd feel about this, though it's at least slightly less self-important: the undeniably impressive machinations of MGM breathe fiery life into a tepid script that attempts to compress an eighteenth century literary masterwork, deeply reliant on disparate personalities and a very broad chronological stretch, into 130 action-packed minutes. The first half is engaging and works well enough as a very thin Cliff's Notes, with Freddie Bartholomew wonderful as the young David and Jessie Ralph a joy to watch as the kind housekeeper and caregiver Peggotty, W.C. Fields memorable if nothing else in his bizarre cameo as Micawber... but its scenes are so rushed that the attempts at long-term resonance in the second half, plagued by Frank Lawton's boring central performance, come off as completely empty; and as ever, paring something like a Dickens novel down to a series of events just feels totally pointless. Still, it's hard to entirely screw up something like this, more of the author's eccentricity makes it than you might expect (more than gets into Lean's Great Expectations, I'd argue), and the talents on display do a fine job for the most part, you just wish they had more time to sink their teeth into it all; Roland Young's sliminess as Uriah Heep is even more fun than Maureen O'Sullivan's painfully ditzy Dora. It occurs to me that Cukor's cut-to-the-chase treatment of the boy's parade of abusers and connections across the years could well have had an effect on Linklater's Boyhood. And, redundant as it sounds for 1930s MGM, the production looks absolutely immaculate.

Favorite moment: when Fields rattles off a list of the food he looks forward to eating, and this being 1800s England, it all sounds hilariously awful: "a tureen of cock-a-leekie soup, veal cutlet - breaded, and a jug of egg-hot..." David excitedly interjects: "And a pudding!?" Micawber: "A suet pudding, the very thing!" My wife and I have already adopted an extremely eager cry of "And a pudding!?" to our regular vocabulary.