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The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947) Online

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947) Online
Original Title :
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
Genre :
Movie / Drama
Year :
Directror :
Alberto Cavalcanti
Cast :
Derek Bond,Cedric Hardwicke,Mary Merrall
Writer :
Charles Dickens,John Dighton
Type :
Time :
1h 48min
Rating :
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947) Online

Nineteenth century England. When Nicholas Nickleby's father dies and leaves his family destitute, his uncle, the greedy moneylender, Ralph Nickleby, finds Nicholas a job teaching in a repulsive school in Yorkshire. Nicholas flees the school taking with him one of the persecuted boys, Smike, and they join a troop of actors. Nicholas then has to protect Smike, while trying to stop his Uncle Ralph taking advantage of his sister Kate, and later his sweetheart, Madeline Bray, whose father is in debtors prison.
Cast overview, first billed only:
Derek Bond Derek Bond - Nicholas Nickleby
Cedric Hardwicke Cedric Hardwicke - Ralph Nickleby
Mary Merrall Mary Merrall - Mrs. Nickleby
Sally Ann Howes Sally Ann Howes - Kate Nickleby
Bernard Miles Bernard Miles - Newman Noggs
Athene Seyler Athene Seyler - Miss La Creevy
Alfred Drayton Alfred Drayton - Wackford Squeers
Sybil Thorndike Sybil Thorndike - Mrs. Squeers
Vida Hope Vida Hope - Fanny Squeers
Roy Hermitage Roy Hermitage - Wackford Squeers Jnr.
Aubrey Woods Aubrey Woods - Smike
Patricia Hayes Patricia Hayes - Phoebe
Cyril Fletcher Cyril Fletcher - Mr.Mantalini / Alfred Mantalini
Fay Compton Fay Compton - Madame Mantalini / Mme Mantalini
Cathleen Nesbitt Cathleen Nesbitt - Miss Knag

Despite his prominent billing, Cyril Fletcher only appears in one scene, and is on screen for only three minutes.

This film received its initial telecast in the New York City area Tuesday 4 July 1950 on WNBT (Channel 4).

Film debut of Jill Balcon.

On reading the script Hollywood censor Joseph Breen objected to the use of the expression "dem'd", but said that "deshit" and "deshed" were allowed. Most importantly a character could not be shown hanging himself in order to escape the police, but could if it was 'out of remorse'.

User reviews



Ealing's adaptation of Dickens's NICHOLAS NICKLEBY had the misfortune to come out at the same time as the two splendid David Lean versions of OLIVER TWIST and GREAT EXPECTATIONS; everyone remembers these two film, while NICKLEBY has been largely forgotten. That's a great shame, because in spite of director Cavalcanti's obvious discomfort with the material, this remains a fine version of the novel, with all the great set-pieces (Dotheboys Hall, the Mantalinis, The Crummles theatre troupe) present and accounted for, and even such minor characters as the Kenwigs family getting their share of screen time. Of the performers, Stanley Holloway has a grand old time as Vincent Crummles, with Cedric Hardwicke a splendid Ralph Nickleby and Bernard Miles an equally good Newman Noggs. The inevitable streamlining of the plot towards the end has resulted in a felicitous idea, of which Dickens himself would have been proud: instead of Madeline Bray being married off to old Gride, it's Ralph himself who decides to marry her, which makes sense: if he can't have Kate to act as hostess, he'll have Madeline; and what better way to spite Nicholas than by marrying the woman he loves? The chase scene through the dark house at the end is masterfully done. Well worth a look.


In post World War II Great Britain there seemed to be a great revival in the work of Charles Dickens. Three of his classic novels were filmed in that period, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby.

Nicholas Nickleby is less known than the other two because Alec Guinness and John Mills got great roles and reached the top of the British cinema firmament as stars. Derek Bond in the title tole of Nicholas Nickleby never got to the heights that Mills and Guinness did. Still he was good in what was probably his career role.

Like the other two Dickens works Nicholas Nickleby involves the progress of a young man who has to overcome a lot of odds to attain prosperity and happiness. In this case his father dies and Bond with his mother Mary Merrall who is from the Billie Burke school of fluttery female and sister Sally Ann Howes look to his father's brother Cedric Hardwicke for charity.

But Hardwicke's not the charitable sort, in fact he's a scoundrel who has systematically lied and cheated others to build his fortune. He's not above using Howes as bait for his business and he sends Bond off to some 'school' that is little more than the work house we saw in Oliver Twist. Bond is a teacher there and leaves enraged at the treatment after giving the headmaster Alfred Drayton a thrashing the kind he relishes giving out to the kids.

Bond leaves with one of the kids played by Aubrey Woods who has been particularly abused and who in fact as it turns out was the victim of the most monstrous evil performed by Hardwicke. But we find out what that is toward the end of the film. Woods who has very few lines by facial expressions gives one of the most touching performances I've seen on film, he will live you longer than any of the other characters.

Dickens works abound in colorful characters and villains completely despicable. Cedric Hardwicke as Uncle Ralph Nickleby is a black hearted soul. Also standing out is Stanley Holloway head of a group of strolling players who gives help to Bond and Woods when they are at their lowest.

Nicholas Nickleby though it has been done on the big and small screen several times has this version to set a very high standard.


When Dickens wrote NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, his third novel, he was recognized as one of the leading writers of the age, but he was still learning his trade. PICKWICK was a comic masterpiece, but a picaresque novel. It had episodes that were actually short stories that could be taken out of the novel and published separately. He also tried to get some social criticism into the story, in the breach of promise suit and the debtor's prison sequences. But it remained comic (the trial sequences are hysterically funny).

OLIVER TWIST was totally reversed. Comedy was at a minimum (Mr. Bumble and his commentary on the law is a nice touch), but mostly it is a tale of poverty and crime, culminating in the murder of Nancy, and the death of Sykes and Fagin's trial and execution. TWIST was a good crime novel, and it's discussion of poverty causing crime affected the public.

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY was again tackling social issues: the existence of fourth rate "private schools" which were meant to hide the illegitimate offspring of wealthy men, or the legitimate offspring of remarried women whose new husbands didn't want them around. NICKLEBY, however, was Dickens attempt at a structured novel - something he never fully mastered. All of his novels had tangents and extra plots that were meant for public enjoyment in the magazines, but took away his creative concentration from the main plot. So at the start of NICKLEBY he puts in two extra stories that are told at an inn to entertain Nicholas and Mr. Squeers. Later he adds a storyline about Crummles and his theatrical troop. But he gradually concentrates on the main plot - Ralph against Nicholas regarding first Kate and then Madeleine Bray. Even here, however, extra plots are created and jettisoned.

It doesn't hurt the whole novel. It is a good read, and there are bits and pieces about Vincent Crummles and his company, the Mantalinis, Madeleine Bray and her father and Arthur Gride, that are well worth reading. But he throws in so much that parts of the novel are never really developed well: Sir Mulberry Hawk plans to deflower Kate, but finds that Lord Verisopht takes a protectors interest in her. George Orwell (in his essay on Dickens) feels Lord Verisopht is a fool, and he does die a fool's death (Kate never realizes his sacrifice). But he does sacrifice himself for her. This should have been explained better, and had Dickens written the novel ten or twenty years later it would have been better explained.

Albert Cavalcanti is best recalled for his "Ventriloquist" segment of DEAD OF NIGHT, with Michael Redgrave. He directed this film. As pointed out by some of the comments on this thread, his fine work directing this version of NICKLEBY was overshadowed in the late 1940s by David Lean's twin successes of OLIVER TWIST and GREAT EXPECTATIONS. He holds his own well. He trims out plot threads (such as Gride and the "romance" of Nicholas' mother and a madman). He also gives that fine actor, Cedric Hardwicke, the one real central role in his career. He is wonderful as Ralph, a malevolent moneylender, who ruins his own life without realizing it. The one moment in the novel when he is sympathetic (Ralph feels bad for Kate momentarily, when Hawk bothers her), is not in the film, which is a wise move. He should be totally hateful.

The other performers are good. Bernard Miles, a forgotten journeyman actor of his period (best recalled for the villain in the remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) does well as Noggs, the clerk of Ralph (they mutually dislike each other - this is not Scrooge and Cratchit). He eventually unravels the secret that destroys Ralph. Stanley Holloway, about to make PASSPORT TO PIMLICO and THE LAVENDER HILL MOB as well as the station master in BRIEF ENCOUNTER, is the grandiloquent impresario, Vincent Crummles. He is good as Crummles, but Nathan Lane's performance in the role was funnier and sharper. James Hayter, who would be Samuel Pickwick a few years later plays the Cheeryble twins, but there is little for him to do but be generous. It is an entertaining film, held together by Hardwicke's portrayal and Cavalcati's direction. I would recommend it to the viewer.


This is an excellent version. I find it much superior to the 2002 offering, which I have just seen. Derek Bond, Cedric Hardwicke - virtually every actor and portrayal is fuller and fitter. The view and flow are entirely more pleasing. It is much better tied together. I needed this previously seen version to help tie the 2002 one together - it is so chopped. I eagerly sought out the book after seeing this some time ago. It is one I had not read, and very much desired to after viewing. Thankfully, it is still being shown by TCM. One needs a good version of any classic, and this one settles it for me with Nickleby. I agree that it sets the standard. Unfortunately, it was not followed in the most recent version to date. Someone mentions the problems with Dickens - If the makers of this film had a problem with Dickens in general or Nickleby in particular, they certainly solved it nicely. Indeed, they should be consulted by those who do.


Personally, there are only two that are better, the 1982 production with Alun Armstrong as Squeers and the 2002 James D'Arcy version, with the weakest being the 2002 feature film with Jim Broadbent and Christopher Plummer, the 2002 film was quite good in my view. But from personal perspective, none of them are bad. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby(1947) has problems; an intrusive music score, Derek Bond's wooden Nicholas, Sally Ann Howes' over-simpering Kate and Mary Merrall playing Mrs Nickleby as too much of a silly caricature. The film is beautifully and expressively photographed and has an evocatively atmospheric setting. Alberto Cavalcanti does direct gracefully for one who is more of a surrealist director, while the dialogue is crisp and intelligent and the story draws you right in with little filler and delivers the narrative right to the point. Three performances may not have worked, but the others do. Coming off best is Cedric Hardwicke, by far and large the most evil of the Ralph Nicklebys of all the adaptations, truly diabolical. Alfred Drayton is loathsome and funny as Squeers, while Bernard Miles' Newman is appealing, Stanley Holloway is a sharp Crummles and the Smike of Aubrey Woods is very affecting. In conclusion, one of the better adaptations of the book and does a very good job on its own. 8/10 Bethany Cox


I'm afraid I find myself agreeing with the contemporary post-war reviewers: compared to the two recent David Lean adaptations of Dickens ("Oliver Twist" and "Great Expectations"), this version of "Nicholas Nickleby" is definitely lacklustre, despite a promising cast (Cedric Hardwicke; Sybil Thorndike; Bernard Miles; Stanley Holloway).

I did feel that the musical score for this production really doesn't help. There's nothing much wrong with it as such, but it is distinctly unsubtle. I found it actively intrusive in a number of scenes, interrupting any atmosphere that was being built up with its blatant attempts to steer audience emotions in the direction it thought they ought to go: pathos, tension, romance all came clumping in and clumping out again, to negative effect.

And matters were not improved by the failure of the two young female leads, Sally Anne Howes or Jill Balcon, to display any dramatic ability in this picture. Miss Howes in particular seemed to spend much of the film with a completely blank expression, even in scenes where she was supposed to be in considerable distress, and the entire storyline involving Nicholas's sister Kate was less compelling than it ought to have been as a result.

It is Cedric Hardwicke as Ralph Nickleby, top-billed above young Derek Bond as his eponymous nephew, who makes the most impression in this version of "Nicholas Nickleby". His is one of the few characters to be given depths beyond a surface caricature, and he makes the most of it in a compelling performance. Bernard Miles as his grotesque clerk Newman Noggs (I was reminded of Jerry Cruncher in "A Tale of Two Cities") is also memorable, and Stanley Holloway makes a typically resonant but all too brief appearance as the theatrical Vincent Crummles, incidentally reminding us of the close links between Dickens' novels and the popular Victorian melodrama, with their blend of pathos and broad comedy.

The opening scenes up until young Nicholas leaves Dotheboys Hall show promise; but after that the film declines into a rather thin series of events. I was interested ahead of time to see what Ealing Studios would make of this uncharacteristic attempt to produce a literary adaptation, but I'm afraid the result probably explains why the studio didn't make a habit of it! Worth watching for Hardwicke's talent, as ever; but not a great screen version of Dickens.

A better adaptation was broadcast by the BBC in 2002, featuring Charles Dance as an excellent Ralph Nickleby.


To a certain extent the Ealing Studios version of "Nicholas Nickleby" was a victim of bad timing. How could it possibly compare with David Lean's superb adaptations of "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist" made around the same period. It was a fate that was later to befall Milos Forman's "Valmont" that unfortunately appeared at the same time as the Stephen Frears version of "Dangerous Liaisons". And yet Cavalcanti's foray into Dickens has partly itself to blame for its very unevenness. One can hardly blame the quality of the book, as some have done, when David Lean did such inspired things with a similarly lesser Dickens work such as "Oliver Twist". Admittedly "Nickleby" through its considerably greater length does pose problems of adaptation to the under two-hour format, but one can only admire just how much of the original narrative has been crammed in. As will by now be evident, this review is something of a mass of contradictions. On the one hand there are some scenes that work remarkably well, the early sequence at Dotheboys Hall for instance with the terrible Squeers menage all hamming it most entertainingly - Alfred Drayton and Sybil Thorndike could hardly be bettered. And there are others that quite frankly are something of a bore, many of the Nickleby family scenes where the acting ranging for Derek Bond's colourless Nicholas, Sally Ann Howes's simpering Kate and Mary Merrall's embarrassingly silly mother are the stuff of village hall rep. This is one of those films that both excite and annoy. However with so much that is forgettable there is one performance that remains quite unforgettable. Sir Cedric Hardwiche's Uncle Ralph is a beautifully controlled study of wickedness. His comeuppance at the end, when he is pursued by police to the upper floor of his house, brought out the very best in Cavalcanti. In a film where so much of the direction is flat and uninspired, this sequence with its camera virtuosity and expressionistic shadows is extraordinarily exciting. Although overall this version of "Nicholas Nickleby" ranks rather low in the Dickensian cinematic canon, it is not one to be overlooked entirely.


Associate producer: John Croydon. Producer: Michael Balcon. Filmed at Ealing Studios. An Ealing Film, presented by J. Arthur Rank. U.K. release through General Film Distributors: 7 April 1947. Copyright in the U.S.A. 11 December 1947 by Ealing Studios, Ltd. A Prestige Picture. New York opening at the Little Carnegie: 29 November 1947. U.S. release through Universal: December 1947. Australian release through British Empire Films: 20 November 1947. 125 minutes. Cut to 94 minutes in the U.S.A. Cut to 10,016 feet (including censorship certificate and B.E.F. logo) namely 111 minutes in Australia.

SYNOPSIS: Bond is the young man who toils in a boys' school in Yorkshire where he has been apprenticed by his thoroughly reprehensible uncle, played by Hardwicke. Conditions at the school are appalling, and Bond befriends one of the students, Woods, who has been the victim of much of the brutality at the school. They escape, join a traveling theatrical troupe, and enjoy a series of adventures. (Available on a cut-to-ribbons Optimum DVD).

NOTES: Previous versions were released in 1903 and 1912.

COMMENT: A remarkably faithful adaptation of Dickens' novel, capturing both the flavor and spirit of the original, while preserving most of the dialogue intact. Such accomplished players as Hardwicke, Drayton, Holloway and Thorndike serve it well, while Cavalcanti's direction recreates the atmosphere perfectly. Gordon Dines' superb low-key photography is a big assist here, as are the fine sets created by art director Michael Relph.

OTHER VIEWS: Casting couldn't be better and Cavalcanti has created an authentic "Dickensian" mood, but too much story is compressed into the film, making it difficult to follow, particularly in the version released by Universal in the U.S.A., which was cut by over 30 minutes. Movie debuts of Jill Balcon and Aubrey Woods. — The Motion Picture Guide.


I haven't read the novel and the print I saw on DVD was pretty lousy. That may have influenced the degree of emptiness I felt throughout most of the viewing.

This is identifiably Dickens. Ealing's sets are wonderful in that I've rarely seen such a congeries of brick piles, stone heaps, smoky interiors, and ill-lit streets before. The characters, with the exception of the eponymous young man and his immediate family, are either vile, weak, or completely subjugated by powerful others.

The plot is pretty twisted, as is common with Dickens. Basically, the Nickelby patriarch dies, leaving Nicholas, his pretty sister, and their mother more or less broke and dependent on the generosity of their uncle, Cedric Hardwicke, a pitiless and criminal moneylender.

Hardwicke has no intention of supporting them. He find Nicholas a job as a teacher in the most repulsive boy's boarding school you've ever attended. The abuse is constant and Nicholas -- may I call him Nick? -- whips the schoolmaster and stalks out, taking the oldest and most often beaten student with him.

The story then takes us on a scenic tour of the byways of 1830s London -- before National Health Care, before Social Security, before practically anything. Nick's sister and mother wind up in the prison "rawls" -- if I heard the word correctly -- which I judge to be unprepossessing empty cottages on the outskirts of the prison that are occasionally rented out. There are various dramatic confrontations and revelations until, at the end, Sir Cedrick meets his just desserts and Nick gets to marry his girl friend.

The Dickensian names are there -- Swike, Mr. Crummles (who heads an acting troupe that Nick joins for a while), Wackford Squeers, Newman Noggs, Miss Knag, Sir Mulberry Hawke. Cripes, if you didn't know better, you might think you were looking at a list of fictitious names under which W. C. Fields kept his bank accounts.

The evocative names are misleading though. They sound funny. And there is no comedy to speak of in this filmed version at least -- no tag lines, nothing worth remembering with a chuckle. If there was a humorous character in it, I missed him.

It's a little dreary, in my opinion. The photography is splendid but the score is of little help and, as I say, the images from this DVD weren't staggeringly precise. Nothing wrong with the acting. Sir Cedric Hardwicke is good at intense roles and this is one of them. I wish he'd played a more benevolent character because his voice is so impressive, so admirable in its timbre and pitch.


The mood is dark, just like the movie itself. I can't imagine that the new one will be able to set the mood as this one does: the trailer looks like it's a musical. Let's laugh through our betrayals. The villain's son as a twisted abused boy is a perfect portrayal, as he falls in love with the heroine. Naturally, all inconvenient characters must die, as they most conveniently do. But the Dickens of old seems to be cognizant of our own DDS, our own Welfare services that split families and allow abuse of all types......not because of the incompetence of the social workers but because of the understaffing. While of course the chief state beaurocrats on patronage receive absolutely MAHVELOUS salaries!!! Dicken's heart would be warmed to see how we in America ape everything English, even their abuse of the poor.

Well, it's off to see the new MUSICAL technicolor Nathan lane treatment of this jolly tale.


Gosh, what a disaster.

Here's the problem with Dickens. He makes a lot of story, just chocks things full of characters, motives, events. Its not that he is describing a world so much as creating one. That's the central notion here that in entering a Dickens project, you enter a world that is especially suited for the narrative arcs he will give us.

Those are arcs concerned with the ridiculous state of man, a particular kind of London-oriented man. There are only two balls he juggles, this writer. One is the notion of justice (though not always precisely what we would like) and the other is the ridiculousness. We'll see that as humor when we consider certain characters or events, but its really rooted in the nature of the world.

Its a great formula, this notion of the world, a sort of battle between the firm laws of fate that always spin correctly and the contrasting notion that there is a wobble in some of those wheels, perhaps coming from our weaknesses, perhaps God just having a bad day.

If you want to translate one of his projects to film, you need to capture this first. And you need to do it at the most basic level, quite literally in the creation of the world we see. The cinematic vocabulary IS up to it. The version of this story by McGrath understood this intuitively, though he would probably describe it superficially as the balance of gravitas and humor.

This version... Well, they got all the bits of the story in there. And they have a remarkably pretty girl as the sister-at-risk. And, alas, the world they have created is quite competent and coherent visually. In fact if this weren't Dickens, it would almost make sense to watch it without sound. If you know the story, you can do that with some of these old films that have disastrous management of sound, speech and score — as this does.

But that coherent world we'd see has nothing to do with the world of Dickens.

Stay away from this one. Its dreadful. Everything that makes it a movie gets in the way of everything that makes it a good book.

Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.