« Les Miserables (French Made) »
Franco-American release of Pathe-Natan production. Stars Harry Baur; features Charles Vanel. Directed by Raymond Bernard. Adaptation, Andre Lang and Raymond Bernard, from novel by Victor Hugo; music, Arthur Honneger. At Cinema de Paris , N. Y., week Oct. 27. '36, twice daily. Running time, 162 mins.
(In French, With English Titles)
Of the seven filmizations attempted at various times of Hugo's gigantic novel of French “Sturm und Drang” this Pathe-Natan production is by all odds the most faithful, longest, and meritorious. In France, where it annexed itself a nice slice of b. o. (though not coming quite up to expectations), it ran in three virtually serialized stanzas for a total of six hours and a quarter. Imported version tallies 162 minutes (eight less than the “Great Ziegfeld”), is divided into two interlocking films, and bears no scars whatsoever of the severe slicing. In acting, direction, and over-all conception it generally deserves its self-coronation as a-French film classic.
From the U. S. point of view, however, and specifically from a b. o. angle, the long-winded importation is hemmed in by circumstances. It comes only a little more than a year behind 20th's “Les Miserables” the March-Laughton starrer, which was enough “Les Miserables” for most patrons for a couple of years to come. Hollywood's taste for the French opus consequently must have evaporated as much as the general public's. But it will be a critics' pic in the bigger places, sure-fire for rave notices. Class circuit can expect to go to town on it, behind tilted prices to take care of the long running time. Another market may be found in colleges or college towns where extreme faithfulness to Hugo is desired.
That the film is in French is of no consequence. There isn't enough dialog in it to supply verbiage for a blackout. English titles are merely a necessary evil in this case. Deaf person can get 99% out of it without any titles at all.
Comparisons with the late American version by 20th probably won't be made, but if they are, the sole outcome will be that the imported filmization is a French conception of a French novel on which the producer went to town. Harry Baur as Jean Valjean is magnificent. Charles Vanel as Javert the cruelly sincere fly-cop, is equally good, and gives a totally different portrayal than hitherto seen. His cruelty is less meller, less stereotype, and more Hugo than others witnessed. Between these two roles, the film easily gets over the hill.
Unraveling in two sections that, neatly dovetail, pic's pace never once lets down. It's an A-1 example of intelligent shearing. Part one takes VaIjean off the galley to an important stage of life, from which he is again toppled by Javert. Part two deals with his second rehabilitation after escape, the romance of his adopted daughter, Cosette, and the death of both the hero and Javert. American Version ended with Javert's suicide, but did not show Valjean's demise.
Detail in all of the situations neatly takes care of Hugo's tragic, and also, socio-economic intentions. Camera work is a match for the acting and Bernard's direction, though at times it adheres a bit too closely to the French tradition of angle shots. Honneger's music is more understandable than the dialog in English and carefully paves the moods all the way through.
Support is adequate and good, but somewhat submerges in the vast footage. Henry Krauss, as the kindly priest, claims a niche for himself at the start, but - as per the book - does not bob up again. Roles of Thenardier and the ninny count get some attention, but also fade out after a stretch as mere sidelights. Fantine is well depicted by Mme. Florelle.
This French production had been kept off the U. S. market by 20th (Then UA) until the Hollywood version got well under way. It's only been recently released for the Anglo-American Francophiles, hence the belated exhibition.
As shown at house, the two films have a five-minute intermission between them. Edga.