« Les Misérables »
Excellent remake of Victor Hugo's somber classic; b.o. opportunities if sold on that basis, not as pop entertainment. […]
20th-Fox has done an excellent job of remaking Victor Hugo's somber classic. It was first lensed by the Fox Film Co. in, 1919, again by Universal in 1927, United Artists had a release out in 1935 and there was a French production in 1936. All of this suggests the durability of the novel as a film subject and indicates there are boxoffice opportunities still around for a remake when done as well as this version.
Presentation of the melodrama is done in three principal episodes, and there is a compromise for a happy ending when the picture finishes in Paris with Jean Valjean still alive and his relentless pursuer, Javert, a suicide after freeing the man he had so long chased. Only Michael Rennie, as Valjean, and Robert Newton, as Javert, carry through all the episodes. Breaking of the film into story parts helps to serve as a pace-quickener to what, otherwise, would have been a long, laborious film of travail on a theme of justice vs. law.
The Fred Kohlmar production is artistically dressed and photographed, and Lewis Milestone's direction often penetrating and concise in mirroring the mood and temper of the story. In the first episode, when Valjean is sentenced to 10 years as a galley slave for stealing a loaf of bread, Milestone, permits the players and scenes to cry out flamboyantly against such injustice and the stark miseries of a prison ship existence. He handles the performances in a quieter more effective vein in the subsequent episodes.
The film actually gets going when Valjean, released under parole, drops the role of convicted thief and becomes a successful pottery owner after getting his first lesson in humanity from a kindly bishop, beautifully played by Edmond Gwenn. It is during this time that he aids Sylvia Sidney, a poor, dying woman, and takes in her daughter, Debra Paget, even rises to become mayor of the village. This success and position are tossed away when he refuses to allow a gibbering halfwit to be falsely accused of being Valjean.
An interlude in a convent outside of Paris, where Valjean acts as gardner while Miss Paget grows into young womanhood, follows. Again events catch up with them and they move onto Paris and Valjean is exposed to Javert when he goes to revolutionary headquarters to right an injustice he has done Cameron Mitchell, beloved of Miss Paget. Film moves on to a fast conclusion when Mitchell is wounded and Valjean carries him through the Paris sewers to escape the still-pursuing Javert. The latter, who cannot compromise with his duty as he sees it, still unbends enough to let Valjean go free, and then commits suicide in the Seine because he has violated his own principles of right and wrong.
Scripter Richard Murphy tackled a man-sized job in adapting the drab Hugo novel to the screen […]. Rennie does exceptionally well with his role, particularly after the convict ship episode. The same can be said for Newton. Miss Paget supplies the single touch of romance and beauty to the plot excellently and Mitchell shows well opposite her. Miss Sidney, Elsa Lanchester, as the bishop's housekeeper; James Robertson Justice, very good as Valjean's friend; Rhys Williams and Florence Bates are among the others in the lengthy cast who contribute capably. Unfortunately, Joseph Wiseman, as a convict, is still playing the hophead hood of "Detective Story."
Joseph La Shelle has given the picture outstanding photography. The lowkey lensing is particularly apt to the mood of the melodrama and with definite artistic values. Alex North did the fine music score, and the settings and art direction mirror the period of the Hugo tale. Brog.