Starring: Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Rochelle Hudson, Frances Drake
Director: Richard Boleslawski
Summary: Adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel where an obsessed policeman relentlessly pursues an escaped convict
Other Nominations: Cinematography, Film Editing, Assistant Director
-The story of Les Miserables is one of the most famous of all-time, and for good reason, as you have an interesting and sympathetic lead, one of the best villains of all-time, and a lot of great and well-done themes covering a wide range of topics, like what does it mean to be a moral man or even a good Christian man, and how we treat former convicts after they have left (which still is a very relevant issue today). Regardless of what you think of this versions adaptation, those themes are still very much present and well-presented
-Considering I didn’t care for him all that much in the two previous films I saw him in (Smilin’ Through and the Barretts of Wimpole Street), I was really impressed with Fredric March as Jean Valjean throughout the whole movie. His problems is those previous films might be attributed to him not being a great romantic lead more than anything. Charles Laughton is also as good as you would expect as Javert
-This one to me is hard to classify as strictly positive or negative but is the biggest issue with the film: while I think it succeeds as a stand alone film, it isn’t a very faithful adaptation. The obvious comparison here is with the 1934 version of Les Miserable which took a totally different track-while this version is 110 minutes and a lot is changed, the 1934 version is easily the most faithful film adaptation of the story but is 280 minutes, or over 4 ½ hours (it’s a REALLY long novel). I am a huge proponent for economy of storytelling, and the fact that the movie included everything needed to satisfy me from the same story in almost 3 fewer hours is a huge plus; my favorite example of this from the movie is that it starts with a short scene that I’m pretty certain was written only for this version with Javert that only lasts 3-4 minutes, but tells you everything you need to know about why he is who he is. On the other hand, many supporting characters have been drastically changed, and the movie ends long before the novel ends, leaving you with a very different impression of the ultimate fates of most of the characters than the novel does.
-One aspect about Jean Valjean’s character that is revealed towards the end is frankly gross,
-The character of Cozette in general isn’t fleshed out whatsoever, but that’s a problem with the source material.
-This was the last film 20th Century made before merging with Fox in May 1935, and is also the first film here to have the 20th Century-Fox logo on it (as it was released after the merger)
-If 1934 was the year of Claudette Colbert, 1935 was the year of Charles Laughton, who also starred in three Best Pictures nominees (including the winner) and was nominated for an Oscar; the only difference is that Laughton didn’t win. Additionally, Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester had parts in two nominated films (David Copperfield & Naughty Marietta) and of course was also in Bride of Frankenstein that year. Never since have any actors or actresses starred in 3 Best Picture nominees in the same year, although three had supporting roles in 3: Thomas Mitchell in 1939 (Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach), Adolphe Menjou in 1937 (A Star is Born, Stage Door and One Hundred Men and a Girl), and John C. Reilly in 2002 (Chicago, Gangs of New York and The Hours).
I really enjoyed this movie because it did a remarkably good job of condensing this massive story into the length of a normal movie while still retaining most of what was needed. However, for those who are purists, this adaptation is problematic because of how much is altered for the sake of brevity, especially the ending.