Friday, April 3, 2020

THE 2020 CLASSIC LITERATURE ON FILM BLOGATHON: Nicholas Nickleby, 1947


Paul Batters at Silver Screen Classics is our host for The 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathan on April 3rd, 4th, and 5th.  Day 1  Day 2   Day 3


Jeopardy! early March 2020. Category: Literary Twins

"This alliterative title Dickens character works for the wealthy Cheeryble twins, and his sister Kate marries their nephew."

All three contestants stood silent until the time ran out. My husband laughed at my shock because, after all, Nicholas Nickleby was written a very long time ago and I had better get used to the world moving away from Dickens, with the exception of A Christmas Carol and possibly Oliver Twist. He almost convinced me there was merit to his argument.

Charles Dickens, however, to quote an earlier blog post of mine, "was one of the best idea men of all time." The movies are always going to need ideas, and to get them why not go to the best? Nicholas Nickleby is far from the most prolific example of Dickens screen adaptations, yet this story has been on screen in silent form, in short form, in motion pictures, and various television mini-series.


The Royal Shakespeare Company version of the 1839 novel adapted by David Edgar was a 1980s theatrical phenomenon that saved the fortunes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, won Tony Awards on Broadway and was awarded the BAFTA and Emmy for its television presentation.

The Chichester Festival mounted their production in 2006, with David Edgar trimming two hours off of his original 8-1/2 hour-long production. It is this production we enjoyed live at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre with David Yelland as Ralph Nickleby.


Dickens threw so many ideas into this successful third novel (after serialization) that you would think this was his last kick at the can. The villains are vile to equal the kindness which comes to our hero, and which he bestows on others. The long arm of coincidence reaches out thrillingly. It is a tale in which to lose oneself.



The first feature film of Nicholas Nickleby was released by Ealing Studios in 1947. Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti directed following his well-received films Went the Day Well? and Dead of Night: The Ventriloquist's Dummy. John Dighton (Kind Hearts and CoronetsSaraband) adapted the unwieldy novel for the screen.

Cedric Hardwicke, Derek Bond
Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas Nickleby

Dickens's characters are so vivid that their names become associated with their characteristics. A misstep in casting would be immediately spotted by an audience familiar with the story. There are no such missteps with Michael Balcon's adaptation. Derek Bond was 27 when he played the leading character. Sally Ann Howes was 17 when she played Kate Nickleby. Bernard Miles was the perfect Joe Gargery in Great Expectations for David Lean and the perfect Newman Noggs in our picture.

Who among us wouldn't have cast Stanley Holloway as Vincent Crummles and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Ralph? James Hayter is both the Cheeryble twins. He would bring Samuel Pickwick to life in the 1952 film The Pickwick Papers, and play Mr. Jessop in Oliver!, 1968.

Bernard Miles as Newman Noggs

From Wackford Squeers to the Mantilinis to the Brays and Miss La Creevy, care was taken that each one familiar with the story would say to themself "that is exactly how I pictured them."

Nicholas, his sister Kate and his recently widowed mother go to London in hopes that their late father's brother, Ralph Nickleby would find himself disposed to help these country relatives. Ralph Nickleby is a mean and miserly man who is annoyed by his grubby relations. He sets the women up in a derelict home he owns in the east end and arranges for Nicholas to be employed in a Yorkshire school for boys.

Dotheboys Hall under the leadership of the revolting Squeers family proves to be a hellhole for youngsters and an endless source of cash for its owners. Nicholas chaffs at the abominable Squeers, ultimately beating the schoolmaster and taking under his wing a poor misused soul called Smike.

Cecil Ramage, Sally Ann Howes, Tim Bateson
Sir Mulberry Hawk, Kate Nickleby, Lord Verispopht

Nicholas renounces any assistance from his odious uncle and strikes out on his own with Smike, as long as Ralph continues to protect his mother and sister. Nicholas's one true friend in London is Newman Noggs. Employed by the hated Ralph, Noggs can be depended upon to keep Nicholas apprised of the truth of his family's situation. Kate is secured work as a seamstress at a fashion house where she is ill-treated due to jealousy. Kate is a pretty girl whom Ralph uses to attract customers to his money lending business.

Stanley Holloway, Aubrey Woods, Derek Bond
Vincent Crummles, Smike, Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas finds work for himself and Smike in a theatrical troupe of dubious artistic endeavour, but of infinite benevolence and sense of fun. Vincent Crummles embodies in one, the conceit of the artist and the generosity of those who must share to get by.

Aubrey Woods, Derek Bond, Sally Ann Howes, Mary Merrall
Smike, Nicholas, Kate, and Mrs. Nickleby

The Cheeryble brothers mentioned above, are kindly men who take a liking to Nicholas, who returns their generosity with his loyalty and hard work. Nicholas and his hated uncle are brought together in, of all things, a matter of the heart that begins with a debtor named Bray and his lovely daughter Madeleine.

Circumstances and actions will bring happy romance to some, and deaths to others. One will be mourned and one will face a lifetime of vile actions leading to official and spiritual justice.

A mini-series is the best format to give the story its due. Time constraints force the omission of some characters and the unfortunate pruning of various incidents. Nicholas's story is one the audience should be allowed to immerse itself in, to replicate the emotional connection one gets through the novel. In the film, we flit from one incident to the other, not given the opportunity to fully enjoy the company of the characters we like or to see more of what makes the nasty ones tick. Nonetheless, it is a treat to see these memorable characters brought to life so vividly. 

Unfortunately, I find Lord Berners's score to this version a little too on the nose in backing up the melodrama. The assistance was not necessary. It is the force of the actor's portrayals that draws the audience into the abridged screen telling of the story, creating fond memories and a wish for more (if I may borrow from that Twist lad).












45 comments:

  1. The only Dickens I can say I appreciate is A TALE OF TWO CITIES, and that’s only because I read it in school and we discussed its Deeper Meanings to death. When I tried reading Dickens on my own, in college (I started GREAT EXPECTATIONS), it didn’t do much for me—so I fear you may be right about Dickens as literature having gone out of style. Sorry... but I agree that Dickens as an “idea man” is another matter. As long as his work is adapted into other media, he’ll still be alive.

    As I write this, I finally remember the name Sally Ann Howes from CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. Didn’t realize she was around so long.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can understand some folks finding Dickens a slog, but he appeals to something in me.

      Sally Ann made her first movie at the age of 12. One of those kid actors who transitioned.

      Delete
  2. How can I not like a post that begins with anecdote about a Jeopardy question? British filmmakers of the 1940s and early 1950s seemed to have a natural talent for literary adaptations and this one was another fine example. Though the cast may contain fewer "name" stars than some of the others, I think their performances are admirable all-around. Kudos, too, for mentioning the great RSC stage version.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. A lot of memories are wrapped up in those movies. This one I saw for the first time courtesy of the legendary movie host Elwy Yost (often mentioned here). It was shown on Magic Shadows which showed its films in installments Mon-Fri, rather like Nicholas's serial roots.

      Delete
  3. Really enjoyed reading your celebration of Dickens' third novel. I'm ashamed to say I've read neither the book nor seen the film you write about -- something I MUST correct!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you. You should find the perfect casting of the movie a joy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A couple of blogathon posts, including this one, have mentioned that the mini-series format is the best for capturing the richness of novels like this. But you make a good case that the 1947 version of Nicholas Nickleby is as good as a 2 hour (roughly) adaptation can be. Love the screencaps. Just re-acquainted myself with David Lean's Great Expectations recently -- next stop, Nicholas?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never weary of Lean's Great Expectations and wish he had done more than the two Dickens' tales.

      Bernard Miles is a treasure as Joe.

      Delete
  6. I've neglected Dickens in my reading history, except for A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, and The Pickwick Papers. Next up was supposed to be a book I borrowed from someone, The Old Curiosity Shop, but now I think I should give Nicholas Nickleby a go. However, if I don't have time to read it, I'll be sure to check out this version. Thanks for recommending!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Pickwick Papers is my "desert island" book!

      Please do give Nicholas a go, book or movie, I'm sure you will enjoy the story.

      Delete
  7. My favorite author is probably LAURA INGALLS WILDER because when I was a kid I read all the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE books. I also watched the show with MICHAEL LANDON, KAREN GRASSLE, MELISSA GILBERT and MELISSA SUE ANDERSON. I have read the books countless times, even as an adult. My favorites are THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK, THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS and LITTLE TOWN ON THE PRAIRIE(in that order). I like CREEK the best because it was when Laura was younger and she first went to school. Also Wilder was great at describing things that were different for Laura. My favorite part is probably when Laura and her family go to church for the CHRISTMAS party and Laura is looking at the CHRISTMAS tree and is really taking everything in. The way the author describes it made it seem like I was actually there looking at everything that Laura was. LAURA INGALLS WILDER-quite a talented writer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We are lucky that Laura Ingalls Wilder turned her interest to writing and she recorded for us an era that is long past.

      I remember the series fairly well - at least the characters - but didn't watch it all of the years it was on the air.

      Delete
  8. One of my favorite episodes is the one where KIM RICHARDS plays a new girl OLGA that has one leg that is shorter than the other. Her dad is played by JAN MERLIN. Another really good one is about journalism. It was the first time I heard the term yellow journalism. JOHN HILLERMAN played the cousin of MRS. OLESON. IKE EISENMANN was also in it. Ike and Kim did at least two DISNEY movies together. Ike also was in 3 eps of GUNSMOKE.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny you should mention Jan Merlin as he was a favourite actor of mine. He played excellent villains.

      Delete
  9. I actually got to see the original RSC 1980s version of Nicholas Nickelby on stage in NY, and it's an experience I'll never forget. A movie, because of restricted running time, as you note, really can't do the novel justice, though I recall this particular movie version as pretty good. I did my college thesis on Dickens, so I have an especial fondness for him. Did you ever see the 2-part movie version of Little Dorritt, from 1987 and starring Derek Jacobi? That's another excellent Dickens adaptation, which gives enough time (6 hrs!) to dive into the novel and its characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I envy your RSC experience. Odd to note how much has changed since those days.

      I missed a lot of excellent television in the 1980s and 1990s, including Little Dorritt. I will definitely make time for it.

      I appreciate your reading and commenting.

      Delete
  10. I love how you've captured all of Dickens in one line: "The long arm of coincidence reaches out thrillingly." SO TRUE!! I love Dickens. He had such amazing range, so even with books of his I didn't like, there's something to admire. Looks like I need to watch and read this one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Please do join us fans of Nicholas Nickleby. There's plenty of room. Come and revile Ralph and figuratively give Smike a hug.

      Delete
  11. Fantastic, insightful post like always. You've convinced me to give Dickens a try!

    Carol, The Old Hollywood Garden

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thank you, and Dickens thanks you.

      PS: The Muppet Christmas Carol had my young daughter convinced that "Charlie Dickens" was Gonzo, or vice versa.

      Delete
  12. I saw CEDRIC HARDWICKE in I REMEMBER MAMA. I know Ive mentioned the movie before. Interestingly, BARABARA BEL GEDDES and ELLEN CORBY were each known later for a hit CBS show. Barbara as MISS ELLIE, the mother on DALLAS. Ellen as ESTHER, the grandmother on THE WALTONS. They were both nominated for an OSCAR for I Remember Mama. Barbara won an EMMY for Dallas and Ellen won at least one EMMY for The Waltons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ellen Corby won 3 EMMYS for THE WALTONS. Barbara Bel Geddes and Ellen were both in VERTIGO. Ellen was born in 1911 so she was the same age as LUCILLE BALL and GINGER ROGERS. When The Waltons came on in 1972 Ellen turned 61 that year. Lucy still had 2 more seasons to go on HERES LUCY.

      Delete
    2. Cedric Hardwicke is one of my favourite actors and this version of Nicholas Nickleby is one of the reasons why.

      Barbara Bel Geddes and Ellen Corby both had very interesting careers that naturally coincided with the classic movie years and the rise of television. Talented women whose work was recognized with those awards.

      Delete
  13. Aubrey Woods as Smike:
    Many years after this, a grown-up Aubrey Woods turned up in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the Gene Wilder version - you know, the good one).
    That's him at the beginning, singing "The Candy Man Can".
    Just thought you'd like to know …

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I appreciate that new-found knowledge very much.

      Delete
  14. Your post reminds me that I should read more Dickens. So far I have only read "Great Expectations" and "David Copperfield" which I both loved. Great storytelling and colourful characters. Thanks for recommending Nicholas Nickleby! I will check out the book or the movie (or both).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure you will find any version of "Nicholas" enjoyable.

      After my sister first read David Copperfield, it took her forever (it seemed) to find another book that really captured her imagination.

      Delete
  15. Have you seen very many movies based on the CHARLES DICKENS books? What are some of your favorites? I know you mentioned one of the classic movies of A CHRISTMAS CAROL one time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Other Dickens adaptions I am fond of include David Copperfield, 1935, A Tale of Two Cities, 1935, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, 1946, and Oliver Twist, 1948.

      I enjoyed the mini series treatments of Our Mutual Friend, 1976 and Bleak House, 2005. I have yet to take the time to watch the series Dickensian but the idea of using his characters and plots in such a way intrigues me.

      A 1960 episode of Wagon Train called The Tom Tuckett Story is adapted from Great Expectations.

      Delete
  16. Two of the actors in A TALE OF TWO CITIES got to work with one of my favorite actresses-GINGER ROGERS. RONALD COLMAN in LUCKY PARTNERS(where Ginger had very dark hair) and BASIL RATHBORN in HEARTBEAT. I thought it was kind of odd that the character that Ginger played in Heartbeat(1946) was said to be 18. I didn't know her age then but I had already seen her in THE GAY DIVORCEE with FRED ASTAIRE so I knew that Ginger would have to be at least 30 in 1946. It turns out she was 35 that year being she was born in 1911. Like you, I don't care about the ages of the movie stars. I just thought-why even mention the age of her character?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny how a look at Dickens brought us to Ginger Rogers I assume in Heartbeat they wanted to emphasize the characters lack of maturity. In that case, it might have been a good idea to cast someone younger.

      Rathbone was a perfect villain in those two Dickens movies in 1935, as Murdstone and the Marquis.

      Delete
  17. I looked up movie adaptations from CHARLES DICKENS books on wiki. There was OLIVER TWIST(33) with DICKIE MOORE in the title role. Dickie was married to JANE POWELL from 1988 until his passing in 2015 which was five days before his 90th birthday. Jane was his third wife and Dickie was her fifth husband. Jane turned 91 last week(Apr. 1). Ive mentioned Jane before. I know her from SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, THE GIRL MOST LIKELY and an ep of MURDER, SHE WROTE where she played a friend of Jessicas who was a nun. First GINGER ROGERS then JANE POWELL! Like Ginger, Jane also got to work with FRED ASTAIRE(in ROYAL WEDDING).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jane introduced a lovely song in Royal Wedding. Too Late Now by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner. It has become a standard.

      Delete
  18. Great write up. Dickens certainly was a marvel. So many entertaining novels, & so many good movies and great TV shows made from his novels/short stories. For some reason my favorite Novel, the Pickwick papers has never made a great movie/TV series. My favorite Dickens movie is still "Tale of Two Cities" with Ronald Coleman. Up there with it are "Oliver Twist (1948), Great Expectations (1946), and Martin Chuzzlewit (1994 BBC).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I adore The Pickwick Papers. The movie version was well-cast, but suffers from that "wanting more" for me.

      I wish David Lean had tried his hand at more than Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. They turned out beautifully, yet Lean called them mere sketches compared to the novels.

      Delete
  19. I greatly enjoyed your post, Paddy. Great Expectations has long been a favorite ever since reading it for school. Does it get more epic than Miss Havisham, an early Norma Desmond if you will? With that said, you've made me aware that I need to dig into his other works. Thank you for that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the kind words. I'm sure you'll find many memorable stories from CD.

      Delete
  20. This movie is interesting!!!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I haven't seen this adaptation, but I liked the 2002 version with Charlie Hunnam as Nicholas. Have you seen it?

    ReplyDelete
  22. I recall enjoying that 2002 movie on my only viewing. I got a kick out of Nathan Lane and Barrie Humphries as the Crummles, and Plummer was a very good Uncle Ralph.

    ReplyDelete
  23. It does not indicate that the movie is obscene or pornographic. It does mean that the movie is more adult oriented than a rated R movie.

    0123movies

    ReplyDelete

THE ESTHER WILLIAMS BLOGATHON: Dangerous When Wet, 1953

Michaela at Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting a blogathon tribute to her adored Esther Williams. The Esther Williams Blogathon ...