Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


LES MISERABLES (1952). Director: Lewis Milestone.

Victor Hugo's famous novel had already been filmed with Fredric March and Charles Laughton in 1935 when this remake appeared 17 years later. In this version Michael Rennie stars as Jean Valjean, convicted of stealing a loaf of bread, and later coming afoul of policeman Javert (Robert Newton). This version shows us much more of how ex-convict Valjean transformed himself into the eminently respectable Mssr. Madeleine, but it completely cuts out the innkeepers, as well as the business with Javert getting suspicious when he sees Madeleine lift a carriage off of a man, The chase sequence from the first picture has also been eliminated. What this version substitutes is much more of a romance between Marius (Cameron Mitchell) and Cosette (Debra Paget), and unfortunately it's dull; it also intimates that Valjean might be in love with Cosette. The scene in the sewers has been expanded and is rather well-done. Rennie is just as perfunctory in the opening courtroom scenes as March was, but in general he's competent if unexciting. Edmund Gwenn and Sylvia Sidney both make positive impressions as, respectively, Bishop Courbet and Fantine; Elsa Lanchester and James Robertson Justice are also in the cast and are fine. As Javert, Newton is much more low-key than Laughton was, and about one fifth as memorable. Well-directed by Milestone, and with a memorable theme by Alex North.

Verdict: Interesting, but a cut below the 1935 version. **1/2.

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