|March and Laughton in a tense confrontation|
LES MISERABLES (1935). Director: Richard Boleslawski.
Jean Valjean (Fredric March) goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, whereupon he makes an impression on Inspector Javert (Charles Laughton) when he uses steely shoulder muscles to lift a fallen beam off of a fellow inmate. Years later, when Valjean has become the respected citizen Mssr. Madeleine, Javert witnesses him lifting a cart off of a man and gets suspicious, leading to a lengthy and convoluted pursuit. Victor Hugo's novel has been compressed a bit, certain characters [such as the innkeeper and his wife] become less important, but the basic plot is all there. This is a well-mounted and elaborate production with fine cinematography from Gregg Toland and an expert editing job by Barbara McLean; a montage depicting Valjean fleeing from Javert by coach is especially breathless and exciting. Although he has his moments, this is not one of March's better performances; in fact he's surprisingly perfunctory in the opening scenes when he explains why he stole the bread for his starving family. Ironically, some of his best moments come not when he's playing Valjean, but Champmathieu, a man who looks like Valjean and is arrested in his place! Laughton gives a stunning performance, however, and Rochelle Hudson scores as the grown-up Cosette, who falls for the protesting student, Marius (well-played by John Beal). Cedric Hardwicke, Florence Eldridge [as Fantine, mother of Cosette], and Frances Drake are also notable.
Verdict: If you prefer your Hugo without the pop music. ***.