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Les Misérables 1935:
Victor Hugo's most acclaimed novel comes brilliantly to life in this impeccably performed, magnificently filmed screen adaptation. Frederic March stars as Valjean, the ex-convict who rises against all odds from galley slave to mayor. Charles Laughton is Javert, the fanatical police inspector who dedicates his life to recapturing Valjean. A vivid depiction of the appalling poverty and social strife of 19th-century France, this version of Les Misérables does splendid justice to the original novel.
Les Misérables 1952:
Michael Rennie, fresh from his success in the sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still cuts a very handsome figure as Jean Valjean, and Debra Paget, who would later reteam with Rennie in four more films, makes for a stunning Cosette in this powerful retelling of the classic epic. Costars include Robert Newton (Treasure Island), Edmund Gwenn (Miracle On 34th Street), Cameron Mitchell (How To Marry A Millionaire), Sylvia Sidney (Mars Attack!) and Elsa Lanchester (The Bride Of Frankenstein)!
Victor Hugo's massive novel Les Miserables has spawned many adaptations in many forms over the years, and Twentieth Century Fox can count two respectable versions from its studio heyday. Both are included on this single-disc release. The superior version is the lavish 1935 take, for which producer Darryl F. Zanuck marshaled the studio's resources. While evocatively staged by director Richard Boleslawski and smartly condensed into punchy, vivid scenes, the movie is remembered for its indelible central performances: Fredric March as the hunted Jean Valjean and especially Charles Laughton as his letter-of-the-law pursuer, Inspector Javert. March, a sometimes stagey actor, is at his committed best, notably in the sequence where (in a single-scene second role) he plays the simpleton mistaken for the fugitive Valjean. But Laughton is completely fascinating: cruel and unforgiving, yet neurotic and weak; and Laughton brings out a tortured sexual undercurrent to Javert's pursuit. (Laughton didn't get an Oscar nomination for his performance, but he bagged one the same year for Mutiny on the Bounty; the film itself was nominated in four categories, including nods for Best Picture and Gregg Toland's cinematography.)
The 1952 production is similarly handsome, and director Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front) an even more talented filmmaker than Boleslawski. But it misses classic status because of the elusive alchemy of casting. The story may be told serviceably, but Michael Rennie's Christlike Valjean and Robert Newton's steadfast Javert don't catch the magic, giving the result a sort of "Classics Illustrated" quality. But Laughton will haunt your dreams. --Robert Horton
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Both of these versions were done by Twentieth Century-Fox 17 years apart and they reflect the social currents of what was happening politically in the U.S. at the time. The 1935 version with Frederic March and Charles Laughton reflects the grim realities of the Great Depression and the social unrest that came about as a result of it. The performances by both men are extraordinary and the cinematography and editing heighten the dramatic aspects of the story. In order to fit it into 108 minutes, most of the book's subplots and colorful characters have been removed but then that's the Hollywood way. Once seen though the 1935 version is hard to forget.
The same cannot be said of the 1952 version although it is completely engaging while you are watching it. Michael Rennie, fresh from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, captures Valjean's humanity and is surprisingly effective in the opening scenes as a galley slave. Robert Newton makes for a commanding presence as Javert and reminds us that there was more to him than Long John Silver. Director Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT) directs with a sure and steady hand although the film lacks his signature visual flourishes. The social unrest of the 1935 version has been scaled back although the persecution of Valjean reflects the McCarthy atmosphere of the early 1950s.
Even though the 1935 version is the better film overall, I found myself more drawn to the 1952 version with its solid supporting cast that includes Debra Paget and Cameron Mitchell as the lovers. So watch the 1952 film to get a straightforward CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED version of the story and then the 1935 version which goes into greater character development and has the signature 1930s visual style which enhances the material. While neither is the greatest version, they do compliment each other and will go well either before or after you've seen LES MIZ. With two movies here for the price of one, you can't go wrong although it should be pointed out that this is not a two disc set.
When I first saw this movie 15 years back this is the version that I saw. And am glad to now own it.
I would also rate the 1935 version 5 Stars with Frederick March, (one of his best films ever) and Sir Charles Laughton who is also
a great actor. Both versions are 5 STAR and well worth owning. - Here they are on one DVD with one movie on each side of the DVD.