(director: Richard Boleslawski; screenwriters: from a Victor Hugo novel/W.P. Lipscomb; cinematographer: Gregg Toland; editor: Barbara McLean; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Fredric March ( Jean Valjean), Charles Laughton (Inspector Javert), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Bishop Bienvenu), Rochelle Hudson (Cosette), Florence Eldritch (Fantine), Frances Drake (Eponine), John Beal (Marius); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl Zanuck; Twentieth Century Fox; 1935)
“Victor Hugo’s classic novel is properly presented as a harrowing social conscience period film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Victor Hugo’s classic novel is properly presented as a harrowing social conscience period film, as directed by Richard Boleslawski (“The Painted Veil”/”Three Godfathers”/”The Last of Mrs. Cheyney“) and written by W.P. Lipscomb. Most critics consider this the best version filmed on the Hugo novel because of the great performance by Charles Laughton and its forceful atmospheric mood.
In 1800, in Favorelles, France, Jean Valjean (Fredric March) is unjustly sentenced to ten years as a galley slavefor stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry sister and her babies. Meanwhile the film follows the parallel story of Jean’s nemesis, Javert (Charles Laughton), who was born in prison and wants to rise above his class. The rigid Javert has made the book of regulations his Bible, and is appointed a law officer. His first assignment is at the same galley where Jean is imprisoned.
After serving the full length of his term, the embittered Jean is released on parole, with a yellow passport and wearing an unkempt beard.Refused lodging by everyone in town but by the kindlyBishop Bienvenue (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Jean pays him back by stealing his silver plates. The Bishop refuses to press charges when the police catch Jean with the goods. Years later, Jean now goes by the name of Madeleine and, as the owner of a successful glass factory, he’s elected mayor. Meanwhile Javert is appointed police inspector in the same district in which Jean lives. When Madeleine helps a dying factory worker, Fantine (Florence Eldritch), regain her lost child Cosette (Rochelle Hudson), Javert identifies him as the ex-con Jean Valjean who failed to report for parole. Jean and Cosette escape to Paris, where Cosette grows up and becomes romantically involved with student radical Marius (John Beal). Things reach an interesting climax with a few twists when Javert tracks down Marius and faces the now spiritually awakened Jean again.
REVIEWED ON 8/31/2011 GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/