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THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO is one of Alexandre Dumas père's most
successful novels, along with THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Eugene O'Neill's
father, James O'Neill, made a career of the role for decades,
committing an abbreviated version of it to the screen in 1913. Indeed,
the IMDb lists more than thirty screen adaptations of the work. The
most successful version was, I feel, the 1975 version starring Richard
Chamberlain. Yet all of the versions I have seen -- about a dozen of
them -- struggle to simply tell the tale, let alone infuse the story
with the depth and breadth of Dumas' novel, which runs to a thousand
pages in full translation, a novel which encompasses issues of
morality, godliness, the Vampire Theater of Paris which flourished for
half a century in France -- and the ultimate futility of vengeance.
Therefore, it is a shock to see this movie, recently restored and issued on DVD by Flicker Alley, directed by little-remembered Emmett J. Flynn in a two-DVD set with the recently rediscovered BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT. This is a wonderful retelling of the story, with fine performances in what was heralded as 'an all-star cast'. The script is carefully written to cover the scenes not shown on the screen. If the print seems, at times, to be a bit washed out, this apparent failure can be laid on the film stock of the era: the orthochromatic film that had been a standard of the industry for almost thirty years would be superseded within a couple of years by faster, panchromatic stock that could film blues more effectively.
If the story seems a bit rushed and more straightforward in its telling than seems proper: alas, that's what happens when you try to get so a long story into a two-hour picture, folks, and director Flynn does a highly competent job, given the Augean task.
Other reviewers for the IMDb have written that John Gilbert does not really seem to be John Gilbert in this picture. True enough, but he is not busy being John Gilbert the star, but an actor playing the Count of Monte Cristo, born Edmond Dantes in the fertile mind of Dumas. Although the modern film-goer may have some issues with the conventions of a movie made almost ninety years ago, those who enjoy silent films will find little reason to regret the time they spend watching this version.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well Monte Cristo is a very good film. John Gilbert is very young here,
early or mid-20s, and unrecognizable thru most of the film. Although
the story is very familiar, having been filmed many times, this is
still an exciting and well-mounted film about a man framed by corrupt
officials and sent to a prison, where he is confined for 20 years
before making a daring escape by posing as a corpse. Second half of the
film documents his revenge.
Gilbert is quite excellent (no surprise). Estelle Taylor is good, Renee Adoree has a small part, and Virginia Brown Faire is pretty as the Arab girl. William Mong is good as the innkeeper. Robert McKim is the evil DeVillefort. Spottiswoode Aikin is the old Abbe (his name is misspelled as Spottieswood on the intertitle that introduces him. Albert Prisco is Danglars.
Odd that the film is broken in two sections and the opening credits start off Part 2 as though this were serialized in 1922... music was OK but kind of bland despite some fancy piano work. No noticeable motif or theme.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film and BARDELEYS THE MAGNIFICENT are two silent classics made by
John Gilbert that have just been released together by Flicker Alley. Up
until recently, these two films were assumed lost to the ravages of
time--decomposed like so many nitrate prints from the silent and early
sound era. However, recently, excellent copies of each have been found
These new versions are far from perfect--with BARDELEYS, scenes are missing and had to be completed using a combination of movie stills and intertitle cards to make up for the loss. But, considering that these only make up small portions of the film, this is forgivable and the films are still very watchable--much like the restoration completed on LOST HORIZON (1937). Sometimes such a repair job can work well, as in the cases of these two films, and in others, such as London AFTER MIDNIGHT, are too degraded that the restoration amounts to nothing more than a slide show.
As for MONTE CRISTO, up until very, very recently, it did only exist with portions missing as well. However, somehow Flicker Alley managed to find the missing scenes and patch it together. The print, while a bit degraded (with lines running through it in places), is complete!
This film was made by Fox Studios relatively early in John Gilbert's career. Because of this, the usual suave and well-coiffed Gilbert isn't in this film. Instead, he is a curly-haired sailer when the film begins--and a pretty ordinary guy. He's the first mate on a ship whose captain is dying. In a last order before expiring, the Captain asks the mate to take a message to Napoleon, who is in his final exile. However, Gilbert's arch-rival learns of this mission and betrays him to the government. On his wedding day, Gilbert is hauled off to court and freely admits to the judge that he was carrying a message to and from Napoleon and gives him Napoleon's letter. In the letter, it reveals that the judge's own father is a traitor to the present government, so he sends Gilbert off to rot in prison in order to save his father from prosecution. In essence, Gilbert was foolish to follow his dying captain's orders but didn't try to hide his actions and fully cooperated with the court--for this, he was sent to a horrid prison and left there to die.
In this hellish prison, eventually another prisoner tunnels to Gilbert's cell. Together, they form a fast friendship, but their escape tunneling comes to naught. Eventually, when this old friend is about to die, he reveals that there is a huge treasure hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. When he old man dies, Gilbert substitutes himself in the body bag and it's thrown into the sea. Gilbert manages to escape, finds the treasure and returns back home--bent on revenge on the men who betrayed him. Considering it has been about 15 years and he is now incredibly wealthy, no one suspects who he really is. There's so much more to the intricate story than this, but you'll just have to see it for yourself to find out how the complicated plot for revenge is completed.
There is a lot to like about this film. The biggest plus is that it stuck much closer to Dumas' story than the later sound versions I saw (such as the Richard Chamberlain and the James Caviezel ones). In addition, Fox Studios really pulled out the stops--using very nice sets, costumes and the like--it is really an A-quality production. Overall, a film that is actually better than BARDELEYS--though it, too, is tremendous and go to prove that silent films can still be entertaining and great film--even 80-plus years later.
I had low expectations of this film, thinking it was a Hollywood
bastardization of Dumas's classic, like the corny but enjoyable 1934
version starring Robert Donat. How wrong I was! This is one of the
better adaptations of "The Count of Monte Cristo"--not just required
viewing for fans of the novel but a good film in its own right.
Let's start with its star. The problem with most actors who play the Count is that they're usually suited to play only one side of him-- the young and naive Edmond Dantes or the suave, revenge-driven Monte Cristo. John Gilbert is the only actor I've seen who excels as both. It helps that he was a young man at the time and plays Edmond with the vigor of genuine youth. He's just as convincing as the older, embittered Monte Cristo, thanks to the intense, smoldering stare that made him a matinée idol. As written by Dumas, the Count might be a swashbuckler but he is also an avenger whose thirst for cold revenge disturbs other characters and even the reader. Gilbert understands this and is perfectly cast.
Dumas's novel is a 1,200 page monster, and even three-hour adaptations have to cut large chunks of it. This version (which draws on several stage adaptations) is less than two hours, yet it manages to preserve the major plot points of the book. This is intelligent distillation is considerably more faithful than the 2002 version. Minor characters have been combined to streamline the story, which gains a surprisingly swift pace. The ending is differs from the original, but the scriptwriters have prepared for it with a melancholy prelude.
I wasn't familiar with the director, Emmett J. Flynn, and feared the movie would be stagy and visually dull. Once again I was wrong. The direction is lively and makes excellent use of superimposition. The lighting and costumes are lavish in the old Hollywood style, and the opulent, airy sets perhaps influenced the 1929 French film of the novel, directed by Henry Fescourt. His three-hour "Monte Cristo" is a greater work than Flynn's, though the most faithful adaptation is a 1979 French TV production starring Jacques Weber. Neither Weber nor Fescourt's versions have English subtitles so my recommendation for those who've read the book is to watch Flynn's film, with Gilbert's excellent performance, and the 1964 BBC TV production starring Alan Badel, which has been released on Region 2 DVD. The 1934 film starring Robert Donat takes too many liberties and the 1998 French TV miniseries suffers from the miscasting of Gérard Depardieu in the central role.
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