Monday, October 26, 2009

Les Miserables

Les Miserables (1935) was directed by Richard Boleslawski and stars Fredric March and Charles Laughton. The movie is based on the book by Victor Hugo. Like most movies based on books there are some differences.

Fredric March gives one of his finest performances as Jean Valjean/ M. Madeleine/ M. Duval.

Charles Laughton is equally as good as the vicious, single-minded, neurotic Inspector Javert.

Young Cosette (Marilyn Knowlden) is delightful. She also played young Kim the 1936 version of Showboat and Florence Udney in Anthony Adverse (1936).

Older Cosette is played by Rochelle Hudson.

In 1800, in France, Jean Valjean (Fredric March) is sentenced to ten years as a galley slave. Jean's crime was that while he was hungry and out of work, he stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children.

Officer Emile Javert (Charles Laughton), who has sworn to rise above his father, crimes (his father died as a prisoner on the galleys) is promoted after he emotionally confides that the book of regulations is his bible and that his creed is that the law must be strictly obeyed. Officer Javert is assigned to the galley were Jean Valjean is imprisoned. They meet for the first time when a fellow prisoner is injured and Jean Valjean lifts the heavy board off the prisoner with his back.

After years of imprisonment, Jean, now with long, unkempt hair and beard, is freed and told he must carry a yellow passport and report to police headquarters on a regular basis. He is refused lodging and food by all because he is a former convict. He takes shelter during a rain storm with Bishop Bienvenue (Cedric Hardwick). During the night, Jean Valjean steals the Bishop's silver plates. Officer catch Jean Valjean and return him to the Bishop. Much to Valjean's suprise, the Bishop states that the plates were a gift. The Bishopalso presents Jean with two silver candlesticks and tells him that life is to give, not to take, Jean leaves with new confidence.

The movie next advances to years later. Jean has changed his name to M. Madeleine and, as the owner of a thriving glass factory. He is newly appointed Mayor of the village. Things are going well for the former prisoner until Officer Emile Javert is appointed inspector of police for the district in which Jean lives. Jean remembers Officer Javert but at first Officer Javert does not remember Jean.

Fantine (played by Fredric March's real life wife Florence Eldridge) is a glass factory worker who is discharged because of rumors that she had a child out of wedlock. Although she threatens to kill Jean/ M. Madeleine for firing her, he prevents Javert from arresting her and takes her in. He goes to the Inn where her daughter has been sent to work and brings her daughter Cosette home to her mother.

On the way to the Inn, Jean/ M. Madeleine rescues a man caught under a cart by lifting it with his back. Javert witnesses the rescue and, his suspicions aroused as he has only see men who were imprisoned in the galleys with such strength in their backs. Javert sends messengers to inquire about Jean/ M. Madeleine.

Javert suspects that M. Madeleine is actually Jean Valjean, a man who is wanted for not reporting for parole. However, Javert learns that a man known as Champmathieu has been arrested and is believed to be "Jean Valjean." Javert confesses his actions to Jean and demands that Jean dismiss him and press charges against him for wrongly accusing M. Madeleine of being a wanted convict. Jean/ M. Madeleine refusal greatly disturbs Javert.

Jean/ M. Madeline is disturbed that another man is being prosecuting for his crime of not reporting to parole and goes to the trial. During the trial, Jean/ M. Madeleine cannot watch another man being wrongly prosecuted and confesses he is the man they are looking for and they know where they can find him if they wish to arrest him. He returns to his home and attempts to give Fantine 20,000 francs to provide for her daughter, Cosette, but Javert confiscates the money. When Fantine, who has been seriously ill, dies, Jean throws Javert down and escapes with Cosette for Paris.

After changing his identity to M. Duval, Jean puts Cosette into a convent and gets work there as a gardener. Years later, after Cosette's confirmation, the two leave the convent and settle in Paris. While in Paris, Cosette meets Marius, a law student who is protesting for reforms, and they secretly fall in love. Javert, investigating Marius' group, follows Cosette home, and when Jean spies Javert watching them, he starts to pack.

As the students' protests escalate into street violence, Jean plans to go with Cosette to England, but when she reveals her love for Marius, Jean responds with anger, jealousy and dismay, for he loves Cosette himself, stating she is all he has in the world. Cosette, who thinks of Jean as her father and feels undying gratitude for, agrees to escape to England and leave Marius behind. However, Jean remembering the Bishop's words on giving and while looking at the candlesticks the Bishop gave him, decides to help Marius and bring him back to Cosette.

Jean and a friend of Marius must fight their way through the violence in the street to reach Marius. Javert is hot on their trail. After the students capture Javert, Jean says he is his, that this man has been following and hounding him for 20 years. However, Jean cannot bring himself to kill Javert and sets him free.

Javert is outraged to be freed by Jean. Jean finds Marius who has been badly beaten. Jean carries the beaten Marius through the sewers of Paris and escapes. He brings Marius to Cosette and begs Javert, who is waiting at he house, for a moment to say goodbye to her. Although the law does not allow this, Javert complies.

Jean says his goodbyes to Cosette and Marius, letting them believe he is escaping to England. He does not tell them that Javert is waiting to arrest him. He repeats the bishop's creed to Cosette and Marius and gives them the candlesticks. Jean walks out the door to meet Javert.

I will not write what happens next as I do not want to reveal a spoiler for whoever has not seen this movie. But I will say the ending is a very emotional one.

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