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This 1934 version of "Great Expectations", directed by Stuart Walker, has
been largely ignored because it pales in comparison with the masterpiece
that David Lean made from the same story in the 40's. By comparison, this
earlier version is plain and undistinguished, but it is not a bad film in
its own right. It is a faithful rendering of the Dickens novel, which is a
fascinating story that in itself makes any reasonable movie version worth
The main thing that limits the effectiveness of this version is that most of the acting is so routine. Dickens' characters are always very distinctive (if not peculiar), and to be most effective in a movie they must be slightly exaggerated. Characters like Pip, Magwitch, Miss Havisham, and Estella all have quirks and/or inner conflicts that are very important in making the story work. That is what made David Lean's two adaptations of Dickens stories such brilliant films - he was able to get his actors to portray the characters in exactly the way Dickens created them. But here, only Henry Hull as Magwitch fully realizes the potential of his character.
Still, the story itself is told well enough. The novel was one of Dickens' best, a brilliant study of the main characters: Pip, whose entire life depends on a stroke of good fortune that he misunderstands; Miss Havisham, who spends her whole life reliving one awful experience from her youth; Estella, torn between Pip's warm innocence and Miss Havisham's cold psychological cruelty; Magwitch, desperately trying to leave behind something positive after a sordid, dishonorable life. Although this film version does not realize the full potential of all of these characters, it does at least make sure that we can see who they are, and can ponder the possibilities for ourselves.
The great Lean version of "Great Expectations" is now very hard to find, and for those who like Dickens' stories, this version, while by no means a worthy replacement, is at least a watchable substitute.
It is hard to compare this version or any other version of Great Epacation because of the numerous ones made ,and the fact that they were all made in different time periods. The main idea though is to get the point of the novel across. This version does this in a very timely manner as well as appealing. While it may not be a blockbuster it is a fair interpretation of the movie. It should not be taken lightly. It is in fact a great movie for the use in teaching of the book. Were is in the place I view this fine production. Even though it is not the best I want to reinforce again it should not be forgotten ,and should be remembered as a classic.
I have given this excellent film an eight because of important
omissions. Otherwise, I would be speaking very well of it even more!
I have mentioned this factor in various places, but no one seems to know the reason why some key scenes were cut from the film. I am referring to the part of Valerie Hobson who portrayed Biddy the governess to Pip. I would say at least 10 or 12 minutes of this talented lady's footage were obliterated from the film. All we see is her name at the bottom of the credits.
In the early 1980's - possibly 1983 I taped Great Expectations from a UHF channel here in California. I enjoyed the film and like to collect period pieces. That is how I know that later showings of the films were cut!
One day I was in need of an extra VHS tape to get something important coming on. Unfortunately, I taped over the film and assumed I could get it another time. I was wrong. At every subsequent showing Valerie's scenes were cut. If I remember right even a scene with Miss Havisham might be missing.
I decided to buy the professional VHS when it was released in the 90's, hoping to recapture the missing footage. It did not have the missing footage! It looked exactly like when I re-taped the film.
Just lately on the TCM Message Boards I mentioned this and someone responded that they were surprised that I even got it complete to watch! Since it was cut, they were surprised the complete one was shown in the 80's and later all subsequent showings including the later released DVD I did not buy were missing the footage.
Is it possible that the film was cut 50 years after being issued? THere had been a family scandal - John Profumo, Valerie's husband, was mixed up with Christine Keeler (chorus girl) in the 50's. He was a congressman. His wife stuck by him. Fast forward to the 1980's. Were the TV stations ordered to show the film with her scenes deleted and someone forgot to do so with the one I viewed? No way.
Valerie was a very fine actress my parents liked in films. I recently saw her in Mystery of Edwin Drood '35 and Secret of Stamboul with James Mason.
If anyone knows the answer to the riddle of thirty years ago when I first collected films and who may have the film surpassing the 100 minutes it is now, would really appreciate it. THough I love the '46 version with Valerie as Estella, this films is special to me as Philips Holmes, a very wonderful 30's actor portrays the character Pip as an adult.
Thank you! Janet at MCannady1@Verizon.net
P.S. THe photography, all of the players including Eily Malyon and Henry Hull were outstanding in their roles as Phillip Holmes and George Breakston - Pip as a young boy
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Universal, 1934), directed by Stuart Walker, became
the studio's contribution to the current trend of classic literature
captured on film. With Louisa May Allcott's LITTLE WOMEN (RKO, 1933)
and Charles Dickens' oft-told tale of OLIVER TWIST (Monogram, 1933)
having reached the screen, it would be a matter of time before other
literary works would be retold in celluloid, particularly those by
Dickens. Universal other contribution, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
(1935) would soon join MGM's masterful adaptations with both 1935
releases of David COPPERFIELD and A TALE OF TWO CITIES, each outdoing
all previous attempts on Dickens thus far, even to a point of earning
Academy Award nominations as Best Picture, while the Universal
carnations are literally well made, though not accurately retold from
the book, they're close to being virtually forgotten.
As with David COPPERFIELD, GREAT EXPECTATIONS is told in two parts, first with its central character as a boy before moving forward to the same character as a man. Set in England during the 19th Century, the story opens in a gloomy churchyard cemetery where the sad-faced Pip (Georgie Breakston) visits the graves of his dearly departed parents and siblings. He is soon confronted by an escaped convict later revealed as Abel Magwich (Henry Hull) who, after learning his sister's husband, Joe (Alan Hale), is a blacksmith, asks him to meet him the following morning with food, drink and a file to break his chains. At home, Pip is mistreated by his older but stern sister (Rafaela Ottiano), upon being forced to drink the dreaded tar water, but is well liked by his good-matured brother-in-law, Joe. Sneaking out of the house to keep his promise to the convict with his sister's pork-pie, brandy and file, Pip, in turn, no longer fears the convict, but pities him. After his capture and arrest, and before being sent back to prison, Magwich, to assure Pip won't be punished for doing a good deed, tells Joe that it was he who stole his food and file. Pip then cries as he watches Magwich being shipped back to prison. Later on, hoping to acquire extra money, Mrs. Joe and Pip's uncle, Pumblechook (Forrester Harvey), arrange for Pip to become a part-time companion to the ward of the richest woman in the county, Jane Havisham's (Florence Reed). Aside from seeing the neglected mansion full of frightful surroundings, with a reception room and wedding cake covered by cobwebs, Miss Havisham, dressed in wedding gown, introduces the boy to Estella (Anne Howard). Estella, taught to dislike and mistrust all males, verbally abuses Pip to a point of tears, but after winning a fight with the neighboring Herbert (Jackie Searle), Estella, who still finds Pip to be common, allows him to kiss her. Years later, the adult Pip (Phillips Holmes), has grown to love with the sophisticated Estella (Jane Wyatt), regardless of her continued verbal put-downs. Through a lawyer named Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan), Pip finds that an unknown benefactor has arranged for him to rise from hard-working blacksmith to sophisticated gentleman of great expectations. A series of unforeseen circumstances based on "chance acquaintances" would soon take effect on his life.
Of the numerous screen adaptations of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, none come any better than David Lean's 1946 British-made production starring John Mills. While the 1934 version has never achieved the sort of lasting impression had it been produced by MGM rather than Universal, it's attempt, though well-conceived, has become the most overlooked and ignored of its screen adaptations. Henry Hull, who heads the cast, is generally a supporting role, the one whose character is unseen for a 40 minute stretch before reappearing again. His performance as the convict is excellent throughout. No problem there. Georgie Breakston does splendidly as young Pip, though, for playing a British lad makes no attempt of speaking with British accent. He briefly spoils it when using the American slang term of "ain't." Phillips Holmes role might have been better served had it been played by either a Douglas Fairbanks Jr. or Frank Lawton ("David Cooperfield"). Regardless, the resemblance between Breakston and Holmes are close enough to be physically the same character from boy to man. The same can be said of Anne Howard and Jane Wyatt. While Wyatt is acceptable as Estella, Anne Howard's poor acting and obnoxious overtones weakens the story. Valerie Hobson, credited last in the opening and closing credits as Biddy, is a character talked about but never seen mainly because Biddy was edited from the final print. Hobson not only appeared opposite Henry Hull in the now horror classic, WEREWOLF OF London (1935), but enacted the role of Estella in the 1946 remake. Francis L. Sullivan would also appear in the Lean production, reprising his original role of Jaggers. Other members of the cast include George Barrard (Compeyson); Eily Malyon (Sarah Pocket), and Philip Dakin (Bently Drummle). Try to locate the uncredited Walter Brennan appearing briefly as one of the convicts in the boat.
Seldom revived since the 1980s when presented on public television or on Chicago-based WGN-TV's Sunday afternoon presentation of "Family Classics" (Thanksgiving weekend 1988) hosted by Roy LeonardS Regardless of its 1998 distribution to home video, the 1934 version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS may not be great nor faithful adaptation to the Dickens book, but manages in getting by with whatever expectations it has during its 102 minutes. (***)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With a poll being held on IMDbs Classic Film board for the best movies
of 1934,I started to search around a DVD sellers website,and I was
surprised to find that 1934 was the year which marked the first ever
adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations to be filmed with
sound,which led to me getting ready to find out if my expectations
could be met.
Talking to his deceased parents in the grave yard, a young orphan boy called Pip runs into an on the run criminal called Abel Magwitch ,who is worn out.Desperate to help Magwitch out,Pip steals some food and drink from home.Passing the food,Magwitch tells Pip that he is grateful for Pip's kindness.Wanting home,Pip is suspected of stealing his sister & her husband Joe Gargery's pork pie.Getting into a fight with a fellow criminal,Magwitch gets arrested by the police.Spotting Pip's family,Magwitch covers the family's questioning of Pip,by saying that he stole the food.
With Joe Gargery having dreams of Pip following in his footsteps and becoming a blacksmith,Gargery is sad to find Pip getting forced to work as a servant for an elusive women called Miss Havisham.Whilst working for Miss Havisham,Pip finds himself becoming interested in Havisham's adopted daughter Estella.Nearing the completion of his job working for Havisham,Pip is suddenly told that a secret benefactor has come forward,who is going to fund Pip to be taken to London,in order to get transformed into a gentlemen.
View on the film:
For the first ever sound adaptation,the screenplay by Gladys Unger takes a frantic approach to the material,which whilst not allowing the viewer to fully experience the periods in Pip's life,offers a delightful taster to the story.With The Hays Code having recently arrived,Unger has to change Miss Havisham from being mental ill,to being a kooky eccentric.Despite the restrictions of the era,Unger does very well at breaking out and building a grim melodrama,with Unger showing that no matter how old Pip gets,everyone else believes that his views should be overlooked for what they feel is best for him.
Covering the film in a haunting mist,director Stuart Walker gives Pip's childhood an excellent,stylised appearance,with Walker brilliantly using overlaps to create a contrasting atmosphere,with images such as a "crucified" criminal,giving Walker the chance to release a nightmare mood.As Pip enters adulthood,Walker uses sharp,clear lights to make Pip feel that he has escaped from the darkness.Revealing Pip's benefactor,Walker slowly peels away the brightness of Pip's lifestyle,as a fire from hell is (literally!) splashed across the front of the screen,as Pip begins to discover his own great expectations.
This may be one of the weaker versions of the Dickens classic but by
all means not the worst, that's the 1974 version which felt like a
musical- oddly enough that version was intended to be that- but without
the songs. It is a good looking film, though the opening graveyard
scene was too studio-bound for personal tastes, there is at least a
sense of time and place convincingly and handsomely rendered and the
photography and lighting are good(the one exception is the hideously
garish make-up for Florence Reed). Admittedly the music is on the
syrupy side, but in a beautifully lush way rather than an overly
treacly one. The adaptation at least tries to respect the book, with
the literate way the script is written and with the faithful structure,
and it gets the point of the book out well enough.
It's not devoid of decent performances too, the cast is an uneven one but not without bright spots. Coming off best is Henry Hull as Magwitch(for me the second most interesting character of the book after Miss Havisham), who plays with real gusto and menace without being too hammy or sinister, though you do feel for him by the end as well. Francis L. Sullivan is firm and occasionally jovial as Jaggers should be, though he is more memorable in the definitive David Lean film. Florence Reed is a haunting Miss Havisham, though much more could have been done with Miss Havisham's cruelty towards Pip(which is more a writing problem than with Reed).
Phillip Holmes however is very stiff as Pip and Jane Wyatt while with an alluring appearance is rather plain and too sympathetic as Estella, with next to none of the icy haughtiness coming out. But the biggest problem with the film is that, while not exactly dull(the pacing is reasonably good actually) unlike the 1974 film, atmospherically it is somewhat bland. There could have been more suspense, more drollness and more mystery, and there is a sense that the film didn't know what to do with some of the characters. Magwitch is fine and the only main character that is somewhat completely unscathed, but with the retrospective and more remorseful approach that the book had not so apparent in this adaptation I didn't find myself quite identifying with Pip in the same way. And Miss Havisham is written nowhere near as eccentric or cruel enough, disappointing seeing as it is those that makes the character so memorable, though Reed still brings those qualities across. The graveyard scene is a disappointment, there is too much of a studio-bound quality, atmospherically and visually, and there is no real intensity or atmosphere, something that was done to unsurpassed effect in Lean's film. The ending is also bungled, few of the adaptations of Great Expectations have had convincing endings but the ending here felt far too sentimentalised. Overall, not so great and one of the weaker adaptations of a classic but difficult book but it is at least watchable. 5/10 Bethany Cox
This first sound adaptation of Dickens' 'Great Expectations' is sorely lacking anything connected with Charles Dickens. Phillips Holmes is a fine actor and he puts all that he can into the hackneyed script. Miss Havisham is played in a sentimental manner and she actually shows kindness. Jane Wyatt is also sympathetic! Her coldness, which she talks about with Miss Havisham, is lacking in action. This would all be fine if it were an original story but it is purportedly 'Great Expectations'! Stick with David Lean's far superior film and the BBC mini-series actually made in Britain. It is no wonder that Phillips Holmes left to make most of his final films in the UK after being disgusted with this film.
There have been too many adaptations of Great Expectations and other Dickens classics that have failed to miss the fact that the eminent Victorian author's novels were not intended as sentimental, romantic fairytales but as scathing criticisms of the less-than-progressive aspects of life in 19th century Britain,namely the exploitation of the impoverished masses by the hypocritical idle rich. This 1934 travesty is about as accurate a realization of Dickens' original vision as Free Willy is a realization of Melville's vision for Moby-Dick. The scenes involving young Pip are played out like an Our Gang comedy complete with cloying music and the rest of it is filled with wooden acting,overly high key lighting, and an abundance of peculiarly well-fed poor people- this last aspect a phenomenon that plagued other mis-begotten Dickens farces of the '30s such as Monogram's Oliver Twist and the MGM A Christmas Carol. Every time this shows up on cable(a rarity at least in Madison,thank God) or is borrowed from a library,Dickens must do a backflip in his grave. All said, if you want to see DICKENS' Great Expectations stick with the Lean version or the respectable 1989 Disney version.Leave this one to rot in Miss Havisham's wedding cake.
This is perhaps the worst film version of a Dickens novel ever made by
a major studio. All of the dramatic power of the story is drowned in
syrupy music and mostly mediocre to awful acting. Phillips Holmes is
terrible as the adult Pip. Holmes, never a good actor, is alternately
stiff and hammy.
Henry Hull, usually quite enjoyable when hammy, and actually quite good normally, is unsatisfying compared to Finlay Currie as Magwitch (Currie appeared in the classic 1946 David Lean film). Jane Wyatt conveys nothing of the icy-yet sympathetic haughtiness of Estella. Florence Reed is just fair as Miss Havisham, especially when compared with Martita Hunt's absolutely unforgettable 1947 performance, and Francis L.Sullivan showed much more enthusiasm playing Jaggers in the 1946 film.
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