December 21 – 30, 2000


American Cinematheque presents...

Great Expectations: Charles Dickens on Film

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"What we were trying to do in GREAT EXPECTATIONS was to create in the film that larger-than-life picture which is really most characteristic of Dickens’s kind of writing."

David Lean






Series Compiled by Dennis Bartok. Additional Program Notes by Chris D.

Tickets available 30 days in advance.


SCHEDULE (by series)

SCHEDULE (by date)






From A Tale Of Two Cities to Oliver Twist, the works of Charles Dickens have proven irresistible to filmmakers: the very first Dickens adaptation, "The Death of Nancy Sykes," was shot in 1897, and there were nearly 100 versions of his novels and stories made dickens.gif (15646 bytes)in the silent era alone. Filmmakers including David Lean, George Cukor and D.W. Griffith all tried their hand at Dickens, embracing the boisterous, unruly sweep of his stories, their combination of Victorian melodrama, sheer eccentricity and pointed outrage at the injustices of the Industrial Age.

Actors as well have been drawn to Dickens’s gallery of rogues, foundlings and spinsters, from Edna May Oliver to Alec Guinness, Ronald Colman, W.C. Fields and more. Dickens himself would have approved: he had a lifelong desire to be an actor, and kept a mirror near his writing desk, grimacing and acting out the faces of characters as he wrote.

Even the very best Dickens adaptations, though, are reductions of much larger works – as critic Alan Dent pointed out about GREAT EXPECTATIONS, "It is Dickens, nothing but Dickens, but not the whole Dickens." For all their charm and pathos, the works of Dickens are a marvelous, elaborate maze: the finest filmmakers have guided us through them, like a lantern in a cave of endless wonders.


Thursday, December 21 – 7:00 PM

Academy Award-Winning Cinematographer Guy Green In Person!!

GREAT EXPECTATIONS, 1946, MGM/UA, 118 min. The film that set the standard for all Dickens adaptations before or since. Director David Lean’s early masterpiece opens with the awesome images of a convict stumbling across a haunted, storm-wracked moor, and then plunges us into the story of an impoverished underdog, Pip (John Mills) trying to defy the rigid caste-system of Victorian England. Co-starring Jean Simmons, Alec Guinness, Francis L. Sullivan and Bernard Miles, with shimmering, black-and-white photography by Guy Green. "Probably no finer Dickens film has been made than Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS" – Michael Pointer, Charles Dickens On Screen. Discussion following with Oscar-winning cinematographer Guy Green.

Friday, December 22 – 7:00 PM

Dickens Silent Double-Feature!!

A TALE OF TWO CITIES, 1911, Vitagraph Films. Dir. William Humphrey. Highly-entertaining, 3-reel adaptation of Dickens’s tale of the French Revolution, starring Maurice Costello as Sydney Carton and Florence Turner ("the Vitagraph girl") as Lucie Manette. "The film was a prestige presentation – boldly staged, imaginatively directed, lavishly costumed and utilizing just about the entire Vitagraph stock company in the large cast." – Michael Pointer.

OLIVER TWIST, 1922, Jackie Coogan Prod., 77 min. The legendary Lon Chaney stars as Fagin opposite child-star Jackie Coogan (from Chaplin’s THE KID) in this colorful, quick-paced version of Oliver Twist, directed by Englishman Frank Lloyd (a Dickens scholar and former stage director). Long-thought lost, OLIVER TWIST was rediscovered in 1975 by archivist David Shepard from a print in Yugoslavia, and restored to its former glory. (Both films silent with musical accompaniment by Robert Israel.)


Friday, December 22 – 9:15 PM

DAVID COPPERFIELD, 1934, MGM (Warners), 132 min. Dir. George Cukor. The first of producer David O. Selznick’s marvelous Dickens films for MGM is like a 19th-century lithograph brought to life, with Freddie Bartholomew as the young David trying to escape the brutal clutches of stepfather Basil Rathbone. Wonderful, irrascible performances by Edna May Oliver as David’s cantankerous, spinster aunt and W.C. Fields as the ruddy-faced, loquacious Micawber (in a role originally meant for Charles Laughton, who abandoned the film after a week of shooting.) In a stroke of Hollywood irony, the entire film was shot on the MGM lot at Culver City, with Malibu Beach filling in for the White Cliffs of Dover!

Special Holiday Festivities will unfold on Saturday, December 23 between 6:00 PM & 7:30 PM. The evening will include holiday Caroling (courtesy of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and The First Baptist Church of Hollywood) and traditional holiday treats and beverages will be available for sale.

Saturday, December 23 – 5:00 PM

Actress June Lockhart In Person!!

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, 1938, MGM (Warners), 69 min. Dir. Edwin L. Marin. Long overshadowed by the more-famous Alastair Sim version from 1951, this lovely little CHRISTMAS CAROL is a tiny gem in its own right, with noted character actor Reginald Owen turning in an excellent performance as the hardhearted Scrooge, opposite the husband-wife casting of Gene and Kathleen Lockhart as Bob Cratchit and Mrs. Cratchit. (Their real-life daughter June appears as one of their children, in her first film appearance.) Discussion following with actress June Lockhart.

Saturday, December 23 – 7:15 PM

Dickens Christmas Spectacular – Director Ronald Neame In Person!!

SCROOGE, 1970, CBS Films (Hollywood Classics), 113 min. Albert Finney is a gleefully wicked Scrooge in this glorious musical adaptation by Leslie Bricusse of Dickens’s ode to brotherhood and the terrible power of karma. Director Ronald Neame was a long-time Dickens veteran, having produced David Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST; here, he proved himself to be a wonderfully humorous and sympathetic filmmaker in his own right. Co-starring Alec Guinness, Edith Evans and Kenneth More. Discussion following with director Ronald Neame.

Wednesday, December 27 – 7:00 PM

Cinematographer Guy Green In Person!!

OLIVER TWIST, 1948, MGM/UA, 116 min. Dir. David Lean. A startlingly real, atmospheric evocation of childhood terrors and the evils of poverty. Innocent orphan Oliver (John Howard Davies) is shanghaied into a gang of child thieves by blackguards Bill Sykes (Robert Newton) and Fagin. Alec Guinness’ masterful, almost unrecognizable performance as Fagin led to unexpected problems when the film was denounced as anti-Semitic by the League of B’nai B’rith – in Berlin, rioters tore the theatre apart where the film was shown, and its release was delayed for three years in the U.S. to let tensions ease. "OLIVER TWIST moves forward in staccato bursts, propelled by coiling tensions and by outbreaks of sudden, brutish violence ... this is possibly David Lean’s wildest movie, certainly his darkest, and arguably his best." – Al McKee, Film Comment. Discussion following with cinematographer Guy Green.

Thursday, December 28 – 7:00 PM

Another Silent Dickens Double-Feature!!

DAVID COPPERFIELD, 1913, Hepworth, 85 min. Dir. Thomas Bentley. The first full-length feature shot in England, DAVID COPPERFIELD was produced by Cecil Hepworth, who made five fine adaptations of Dickens in the silent era, and stars Kenneth Ware, Dora Spenlow and H. Collins (as Micawber). "In spite of its faults, the film is undeniably a milestone in translating Dickens to the screen and demonstrates in scene after scene the pictorial quality and realism for which Hepworth was renowned." – Michael Pointer.

CRICKET ON THE HEARTH, 1923, Paul Gerson Pictures, 65 min. One of the most rarely-adapted Dickens novels (there are, in fact, no sound versions of the story), CRICKET ON THE HEARTH stars Fritzie Ridgeway as Bertha Plummer, a young blind girl surrounded by a typical Dickens gallery of rogues and saviors. Director Lorimer Johnston co-stars as Josiah Tackleton, alongside producer Paul Gerson, who took on the role of John Peerybingle.

(Both films silent with musical accompaniment by Rick Friend.)


Friday, December 29 – 7:00 PM

Double Feature:

THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, 1935, Universal (Swank), 85 min. Dir. Stuart Walker. Opium-addicted choirmaster John Jasper (Claude Rains) harbors an unhealthy obsession for the lovely young Rosa Bud, driving him to separate her from his luckless nephew Edwin Drood and hotblooded Ceylonese immigrant Neville Landless. Odd, strangely hypnotic story of sexual obession (based on Dickens’s last, unfinished novel), fueled by Rains’ intense, Phantom-like performance and filmed in the gothic Universal Horror house-style.

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, 1947, Ealing Studios (Kit Parker), 108 min. Dark, storm-tossed version of one of Dickens’s most notoriously complicated novels, directed in fine style by the gifted Alberto Cavalcanti (WENT THE DAY WELL?.) The great character actor Cedric Hardwicke stars as miserly moneylender Ralph Nickleby, determined to spoil the happiness of his impoverished-but-resourceful nephew Nicholas (Derek Bond) at any cost.


Saturday, December 30 – 5:00 PM

A TALE OF TWO CITIES, 1935, MGM (Warners), 121 min. Dir. Jack Conway. The second of producer David O. Selznick’s stunning adaptations of Dickens stars Ronald Colman in perhaps his greatest performance as Sydney Carton, the drunken cynic who finds redemption by posing as the husband of his unrequited love to insure the man’s safety during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. A lush, definitive version of one of Dickens’s most beloved novels. Co-starring Basil Rathbone, Elizabeth Allan and Edna May Oliver. (Note: the Storming of the Bastille scenes were directed by the uncredited team of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur!)


Saturday, December 30 – 7:30 PM

Actress Shani Wallis and Academy Award-Winning Choreographer Onna White In Person!!

OLIVER!, 1968, Columbia, 153 min. Carol Reed (THE THIRD MAN) directed this excellent, larger-than-life adaptation of Lionel Bart’s musical, with a perfect cast including spellbinding Ron Moody as Fagin, Mark Lester as Oliver Twist, Shani Wallis as Nancy, and the late, great Oliver Reed giving Robert Newton a real run-for-his-money as the ultimate demonic Bill Sykes. Winner of 6 Oscars, including Best Picture and Director.

Discussion following with actress Shani Wallis and Oscar-winning choreographer Onna White.