Les Misérables (1934) Poster

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  • Yes, Les Misérables (1862), a novel by French writer Victor Hugo, is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, such that it has inspired a long-running stage musical and at least a dozen films. The screenplay for this movie was written, directed, and produced by French film-maker Raymond Bernard.

  • Ex-convict Jean Valjean (Harry Baur), released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, is given 120 francs, 15 sous, and a yellow passport and is sent out into a society that will have no part of him. While searching for food and a place to sleep, he chances upon a kindly bishop who inspires him to become an honest man. Jean decides to break his parole and create a new life, raising himself from unwanted convict to the mayor of Montreuil, distinguished by his charitable works, e.g., his attempts to re-unite the dying Fantine (Florelle) with her eight-year old daughter Cosette (Gaby Triquet). Unfortunately, police inspector Javert (Charles Vanel) learns of his whereabouts and vows to relentlessly track Valjean down for his parole violation and return him to prison for the rest of his life.

  • The film opens in 1815 as Valjean is being released from prison. The story spans from 1815 to June of 1832, a time period of 17 years.

  • The movie is entirely in French. When shown to an English-speaking audience, however, it is usually accompanied by English subtitles.

  • No cause is given, not even in the novel. Based on the symptoms (cough, fever, lethargy, failing health, etc.) and time period, some viewers have presumed it to have been tuberculosis. Other possibilities include bronchitis, pneumonia, or flu.

  • The moment Javert sees Madeleine use his back to lift a heavy wooden cart that had fallen on another man. Javert remembers that the only other person he had seen with so much strength was Jean Valjean back when he was still in prison. Javert immediately writes a letter to the prefect of police in Paris, explaining the resemblance and requesting information about Madeleine's background.

  • The third part of the movie depicts what has been called the June Rebellion aka the 'Uprising of 1832,' when a large group of Parisian Republicans, consisting mostly of working class and students, staged an insurgency against the French monarchy, which was then headed by King Louis-Philippe I, who reigned from 1830 to 1848, following on the heels of Charles X (reigned from 1824 to 1830). Protesting against poor working conditions and bad economic conditions, they barricaded the streets and held out for two days (June 5-6) until the national guard and thousands of soldiers broke through the barricades, killed hundreds of the insurgents, and effectively ended the uprising.

  • No specific reason is given. Most viewers conclude that Javert, driven by the belief that the law was always correct, could not reconcile this belief with the compassion he felt for Jean's love and sacrifice for Cosette and Marius and that, believing he had committed the ultimate betrayal to his code of ethics, had no choice but to kill himself. At least, that's what he writes in his suicide note.

  • Devastated that Cosette (Josseline Gaël) has chosen to marry and go off with Marius, Jean does not attend their wedding but stands outside looking through the ballroom window where the guests are dancing, tears streaming down his cheeks. The next morning, he pays a visit to the newlyweds. With a graveness in his voice, he tells Marius that he stayed away from the wedding because he couldn't sign the marriage papers as a witness and explains that he is an ex-convict and is still a fugitive. He merely wants to say goodbye to Cosette. Cosette fears that she's done something to make him unhappy, but Jean assures her that her happiness has been the sole purpose of his life. They embrace one last time as father and daughter, then Jean collapses, saying that his wound may have reopened. As he lay on the couch dying, he gives to Cosette the silver candlesticks given to him 17 years ago by Monseigneur Myriel (Henry Krauss) and prays that the deceased monseigneur is content with him. He asks that he be buried in the first plot of earth they find with an unnamed headstone and requests that Cosette visit him sometimes. With his dying breath, Valjean utters his last words, 'God is just...it is man who is sometimes unjust.' The camera then focuses on the candlesticks. Slowly, the candles' flames die out.

  • This version of the story is acclaimed at being the most faithful rendition of Hugo's novel, which is massive and is divided into five parts, four of them focusing on each of the main characters (Fantine, Cosette, Marius, and Jean Valjean) and one on the revolution ('The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic in the Rue St Denis'). The movie condenses the five parts into three parts (I. Une Tempête sous un crâne [A Tempest in a Skull], II. Les Thénardiers, and III. Liberté Liberté Cherie [Liberty Sweet Liberty], which were made as separate 'films' and are sometimes shown as a three-part miniseries. Scenes in the novel eliminated from the movie include (1) the years when Cosette and Valjean live in the Petit-Picpus convent where Valjean works as a gardener, (2) Thénardier's escape from prison and second attempt to kill Valjean as well as all successive attempts, (3) Marius turning Cosette away from Jean when he reveals his past, (4) and Thénardier's attempts to blackmail Marius after Jean's death. Even with these eliminations, the movie runs for almost 4 hours and 45 minutes.


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