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Jean Valjean, a Frenchman of good character and great strength, is convicted of stealing a loaf of bread, an act that sets in motion a lifetime of misery for Valjean, as he is pursued by the uncompromising and brutal lawman Javert. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Victor Hugo's novel "Les Misérables" is the kind of elaborate and insightful classic that can never be equaled in a movie. But this 1935 version is a good adaptation, with two excellent stars, believable settings, and a decent script that concentrates on a selection of the more important portions of the novel. While hardly the towering achievement that Hugo's work was, it serves pretty well as an introduction to the two main characters and the basic themes behind their confrontations.
Fredric March and Charles Laughton work very well as the leads. March seems well-cast as Jean Valjean. He's a character that's very hard to do justice to, but March does about as well as anyone could in bringing out some of the thoughts and anxieties inside him. As Javert, Laughton is a less obvious choice for the role, but he shows enough restraint to do a good job in communicating the inspector's intransigent devotion to a narrow set of beliefs. While you could hardly expect the complexity of the novel, the scenes with the two of them work well in bringing out the basic contrasts in their personalities and perspectives.
The other characters are pushed more into the background, and many of their stories are only partially developed. Accordingly, they are portrayed by a solid but generally unremarkable supporting cast. The screenplay focuses on Valjean and Javert, with the other characters usually coming into play only insofar as they relate to the stories of the other two. No doubt that is a disappointment to those who admire the interesting lives and well-developed personalities that Hugo wrote for them, but it seems hardly avoidable in a regular-length film feature.
For an attempt to convey the central characters and themes of the story, this works pretty well, and it is a classic worth seeing. Those familiar with the novel should at least be able to appreciate March and Laughton for bringing their characters to life, and those who have not read the novel should find it a worthwhile introduction to the story.
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