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  • With Michael Rennie as Valjean and Robert Newton - in a subdued and tense performance - as Javert, this version of Victor Hugo's great novel is involving, intelligent, touching, and passionate.

    In comparison to the 1935 version with March and Laughton, this film stands up well, and looks good, with a literate script. Some characters from the novel are omitted for time constraints, but their absence is not missed.

    A good and sturdy version then, not without flaws but carried forward by strong performances, particularly that of Newton, who fits the part of Javert extremely well.
  • Once you have seen the Black and White film "Les Miserables" with Michael Rennie as Jean Valjean and Robert Newton as Etienne Javert all others fall short by comparison. It's true, there are several versions, both American and French, but each lack the total depth of the 1952 film. Some are too long, (the French Version is three hours) some are mismatched actors, like the one with Anthony Perkins and Ian Holm, and some have forgotten the spirit of the book itself. This particular version which includes actor Edmund Gwenn is, in my opinion superb! This film encompasses the essence of Victor Hugos book. Like a fine wine which has aged well, this vintage is a true masterpiece. Enjoy. ****
  • This was the first version of Les Miserables that I saw. I have seen 3 versions since, including the excellent French version with Gerard Depardieu and John Malkovich, but none has the same sheer storytelling power of the 1952 version. Michael Rennie and Robert Newton are superb in their contrasting roles, and the support cast is excellent.
  • Watchable version of the oft-filmed Victor Hugo tale: made by the same studio (Fox), it emerges as a wholly inferior remake of the superb 1935 version – which I reviewed earlier this month. Despite Milestone’s involvement, this one displays more surface gloss than genuine style – with the script itself being much more prosaic. Still, there’s an intermittent evidence of talent throughout – for instance, in the rather effective final shot which frames the mirror image of the protagonists between the all-important candlesticks; also worth noting is the score by Alex North which, particularly at the climax, feels like a dry run for his Oscar-nominated work on SPARTACUS (1960).

    Michael Rennie and Robert Newton are fine actors, but their performances here are no match for Fredric March and Charles Laughton in the earlier film; though Newton is remarkably restrained, his role has been somewhat diminished to accommodate the sappy romance involving Debra Paget and Cameron Mitchell! Besides, it’s compromised by the loss of two small but important scenes from the 1935 version which, in this case, robs the character of essential depth: a) when Javert is humiliated by his peers for his lowly background, and b) when he blackmails newly-appointed Mayor Jean Valjean, a former convict, in his office; unbelievably, it substitutes the first by having Javert’s own father serve a prison sentence on the galley to which he’s himself assigned!

    Other conceptual flaws include: Edmund Gwenn’s pivotal role of the Bishop, which comes off as whimsical alongside Cedric Hardwicke’s haunting turn in the earlier film; Valjean is depicted as an illiterate who receives schooling from the intellectual played by Joseph Wiseman (his Method approach feels out of place in a 19th century French setting!); Javert’s conscience-stricken demise here is, disconcertingly, brought about by his brief conversation with James Robertson Justice (as Valjean’s right-hand man); missing from the narrative, though, is the poignant character of Eponine (whose role gave a plausible melancholia to the romantic angle in the 1935 film).

    Ultimately, I wouldn’t call the 1952 LES MISERABLES unnecessary, considering that it’s made with undeniable professionalism and the fact that countless other film versions have followed it; perhaps, the late eminent critic Leslie Halliwell summed it best in his claim that it’s “lacking the spark of inspiration”.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is a classic, a very rich and emotional story but also one that is difficult to adapt, all too clear in how mixed the numerous adaptations of it are. This is not a bad film, far from it. As an adaptation, it's not great, but when judged on its own it's one example of a film with many merits but falls short.

    Debra Paget makes one of the least interesting characters of the book even blander, if she wasn't so beautiful she would have been completely forgettable, while I do agree that Cameron Mitchell is similarly stiff. The film suffers also from too much of the film being focused too much on Cosette and Marius and not enough on Valjean and Javert(whose story is much more interesting and important, seeing as Paget and Mitchell are so unconvincing in their roles it does hurt the film. Valjean and Javert do have some good tense chemistry together but you wish there was more.

    Some may say the film is pedestrian, I personally think the opposite and that it's rushed, it maintains the pacing of the book well but the effectiveness of the different subplots is mixed and the characters don't ring true as much as other adaptations because the film does feel rather superficial at times. The ending was abrupt- I missed the emotion and irony that the 1935 film's had- and made Javert's suicide almost pointless, Marius' accusation seemed out of character and unnecessary and the omission of Enjolras and Eponine, the waste of Gavroche(better than omitting him like the 1935 film, a much better film, but still) and the addition of Robert(who didn't add a whole lot) added to the lack of story depth.

    You might think reading all this that Les Miserables(1952) is a bad film. As said already, it isn't. It is very handsomely mounted with authentic sets and costumes and lovely cinematography. The final shot is a notable example. The music score from Alex North is a mixture of rousing, haunting and beautiful. The script is a very thought-provoking one that respects Hugo's writing. The story did lack a fair bit but it did have its very good moments. Fantine's story is still very poignant(though much more so in the book and in other adaptations), the film is set up very well, Valjean and Javert's conflicts make for some good tension and the sewer chase is thrilling. The storytelling also may be lacking in detail but the spirit of the book is present.

    Michael Rennie is a very noble Valjean who also gives the character real truth and emotion, which makes him one of the film's most sympathetic characters(the other being the bishop). That goodness doesn't always come easy to Valjean is not absent either. Robert Newton's Javert is equally excellent, he is menacing and authoritative but like with Valjean the film doesn't forget to give a sense(though not the most powerfully depicted) that Javert can't catch Valjean despite getting very close-especially at the end-without breaking what he stands for, and also that Javert cannot accept that Valjean has changed. James Robertson-Justice does have a warm presence and makes an effort to make Robert like he was part of the story already, it doesn't work in that respect but Justice still gives a good account of himself. Sylvia Sidney is affecting as Fantine, and Edmund Gwenn brings humanity and benevolence to the bishop.

    In conclusion, a decent film that could have been better. 6/10 Bethany Cox
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a huge fan of the book and the musical, I have made it one of my priorities to see all of the movie versions of Les Miserables that I can. I can officially say now that this version is probably the furthest from the book, except perhaps the 1998 version. I cannot blame the actors, but I do blame the screenwriter and director for this slaughter of a classic.

    The movie was okay up until the judge sentenced Valjean to ten years in the galleys. Valjean doesn't go to the galleys, he goes to TOULON, a PRISON CAMP where he does HARD LABOR. I could forgive this however, except that the movie only went downhill from there. The incident with the bishop is fairly that the dialogue seems to have been taken almost word for word from the 1935 version and that Mme. Magloire appears about twenty. Valjean is somehow able to buy a pottery plant after his "brilliant" idea to have everyone work on what they are best at. So much for glass beads. At this point he meets the entirely nonexistent Robert, who becomes a close friend that lives with Valjean for the rest of the movie. Why did they decide to make up characters, WHY? It was wholly unnecessary! would have been if they had stuck to the book. The way this script was going it was probably necessary.

    Fantine, of course, does not sell her hair. Or her teeth. Because apparently audiences of the 1950s do not want to hear about such things. In fact, she looks quite good for a woman living on the streets. Fantine is not a prostitute either, because it's bad to promote prostitution as a way to survive when you cannot support your starving child any other way. And, because everyone has to believe that good things happen to dying people, Valjean goes and fetches a not-so-young-looking Cosette, who is reunited with her not-so-sick-looking mother. Bear in mind that this sequence is not shown, eliminating the Thenardiers entirely, as well as images of a malnourished Cosette. Apparently everyone is well aware Fantine is going to die, yet they go about their day ever-so-happily.

    They end up at "The Convent of the Child Mary" because Petit Picpus is too hard to say. The sequence of meeting Marius in the convent is rather random, as is Marius' later accusation of Valjean being in love with Cosette. This IS NOT TRUE. Why? Why do so many directors and screenwriters think he's in love with Cosette? It's not TRUE. Anyway, Marius, not seeming overwhelmingly disheartened when Valjean won't let him marry Cosette (and also says they're leaving for England), ends up at the barricades. It's not really ever explained why there's a barricade in the first place. There just is. It's just a bunch of random people (and by that I mean, about five times as many in the book. It's 40, not 200) So Valjean intercepts Marius' letter to Cosette...which says something to the effect of "Your father is a jealous, horrible person. If I live, you should run away and elope with me." Totally opposite, of course, from the "I'm going to die, and I love you" letter that should be sent. Valjean seems to go to the barricade more to convince himself he's unselfish than to save Marius.

    Then comes the sewer chase. The sewer chase upset me for one reason, and one alone. There was a skull on the sewer ledge. Just a skull. Not even a skeleton. Because so many people go down into the sewers and some how decapitate themselves such that their head remains on the ledge and their body floats away. It was so CORNY! I laughed very hard when I saw that skull. It also appears to be a flashback to the 1935 movie, where there was one present in those sewers as well.

    Thanks to bad character development and a bad script in general, Javert's suicide seems entirely uncalled for. And Valjean watches. And the movie ends. And I start to cry and laugh simultaneously.

    I am very upset at the plot changes, as well as the cuttings of Enjolras, Eponine, and the Thenardiers. I am upset that Valjean was a brute with few redeeming qualities throughout the movie, and that they did not show his confession to Marius nor his death. I am upset at the horrid characterization of Javert, who was among other things short, rotund, and non-menacing. I am upset that Fantine looked perfectly fine and got to see a thirteen-year-old Cosette again. I am upset that Marius was an unattractive, 35-year-old man without a background story to help you understand his character. I am upset at the addition of "Robert" into the story. I am upset that absolutely no one in a movie about the poor and miserable was poor and miserable except the galley slaves. In fact, Gavroche may have been the only character whose original attitude and appearance remained the same, though many of his scenes were cut entirely and he served more as a messanger than anything.

    Some other unexpected defects in this wretched movie were the costumes. The costumes did not look at all like the clothes of 19th century Parisians, except for the National Guard uniforms. The hats, in particular, were very wrong for the time. It was saddening that no one did any research on this kind of thing.

    The trailer advertised it as "A movie as great as the book!" The people who created this trailer must have never read it.
  • bkoganbing15 September 2009
    Michael Rennie and Robert Newton have a go at playing the classic roles of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in another version of Les Miserables. The story was far better told on Broadway and in the 1935 film with Fredric March and Charles Laughton.

    Not the fault of the actors, Michael Rennie is the restrained voice of civilized humanity in Jean Valjean, proof that a man can overcome a bad start in life and make a contribution to mankind's betterment. Holding the opposite view of course is Robert Newton as the ruthless Inspector Javert who in fact did have a bad upbringing, the child of a convict, but refuses to believe that anyone else can. His negative view of mankind doesn't bring anyone any love in their lives. This I've always felt is the key to Javert be he played by Charles Laughton or Robert Newton.

    What I didn't like and was not in the March/Laughton version was the idea that the Valjean character had more than a fatherly interest in Cosette, the child of the doomed Fantine who Valjean adopts. Those are the major female roles in Les Miserables and are played here by Debra Paget and Sylvia Sidney respectively and well. I don't think it was necessary at all to have Paget's young suitor, revolutionary student Cameron Mitchell make that accusation.

    It's not a bad film, but after March and Laughton this one seems like a local stock company production.
  • This version of Victor Hugo's classic novel was not as good as the 1935 version. Obviously, the two leading actors can not compare to Fredric March and Charles Laughton, but let me tell you, Michael Rennie and Robert Newton both gave excellent performances! Joseph Wiseman was excellent in a small role, as were James Robertson Justice, Edmund Gwenn, Cameron Mitchell, Debra Paget, and Sylvia Sidney! Once again, this version was not as good as the 1935 version, but all the actors did their very best, and I believe the result was a movie worth watching, and I highly recommend it! The excellent acting definitely lifted it up to almost the 1935 version!
  • This may not be the best version of LES MISERABLES, but it certainly can be recommended on the basis of a strong performance from Michael Rennie who easily gives the most interesting and sympathetic performance in the film. A considerably restrained Robert Newton is the hated Javert hunting him down. Newton, usually a superb villain, fails to make the sort of villainous impact Charles Laughton made in an earlier version of the story.

    Unconvincing and simply there as window dressing is Debra Paget as Cosette. Likewise, Cameron Mitchell is stiff and lifeless as the young man who falls in love with her, which surprised me because he is a talented actor who made much better impressions in other films. He seems badly miscast here.

    Much of the story has been altered in this version, but whenever the concentration is on the story of the haunted central character the film is lifted to another dimension. Rennie as the convict in the early sequences is especially good at conveying all the pain and humiliation his character feels.

    Too bad that subplots take away from some of the story's strength, especially the one involving Sylvia Sydney's character which is probably among the weakest roles of her career. Her reunion scene with daughter Cosette is almost laughable.

    A deeper, more penetrating exploration of Valjean and Javert would have given the film a stronger feel. Production-wise, Fox has given the film all the technical values it needed with some fine B&W photography and settings, but it all comes across as a superficial version of the original story.
  • sligocait5 September 2010
    This is my favorite version of this story, and Michael Rennie is wonderful as Jean Valjean. Robert Newton is also at his crusty best as Javert, his relentless pursuer. I have never seen Rennie give a bad performance and this movie was one of his best, made right as his film career in the US was taking off. The supporting cast is also excellent, and the conflict that arises within Valjean as his feelings of fatherly love for Cosette become romantic feelings that he cannot act upon add to the tension of the film and make for a very complex performance from a gifted actor.

    I heartily recommend this movie to anyone, and if you are a fan of Michael Rennie and/or of Robert Newton, you won't be disappointed in either of them. ENJOY!!
  • In reaction to the reviewer qualifying this the best version he has seen I feel obliged to point that Victor Hugo is not respected here ; Cosette had a peaceful childhood and appears with Hollywood pretty dresses, and Gavroche,the kid from the miserables (people in misery starving) which becomes an emblem dying during the revolutionary barricades against the oppressive crush from fortunate class and bourgeoisie, is reduced here to deliver a letter ! Try reach the director Raymond Bernard trilogy, with Harry Baur as Jean Valjean. You will discover reality, not "let's not hurt audience" casting or look. Another more faithful version is the one with Jean Gabin, but with so clean miserables ! No, the trilogy by Raymond Bernard, shown from decades on French TV, recently restored by Cinematheque Francaise, seems to be the Victor Hugo book alive. No concession, misery is there, corrupted houses, characters alive rather than actors on parade. This trilogy is beyond art, it is life, as Victor Hugo described it.
  • i liked this version of Victor Hugo's classic novel,Starring Michael Rennie as Jean Valjean and Robert Newton as Javert.however i prefer the 1935 version starring Frederic March as Valjean and Charles Laughton as Javert.this may just be personal preference but i think March and Laughton were more suited for their roles than Rennie and Newton were.i found this version a bit slower,and not quite as compelling,though it still has its moments.the theme of redemption is of course front and centre,but it is not as well developed or explored here,and has less of an impact.the ending though similar to the 1935 version is not as powerful.still,a very good film.for me,Les miserables (1952)is an 8/10
  • As a movie standing on its own I'd say its watchable but beyond that I am not able to muster any positive feelings.

    As a great fan of the book (and the musical that came years after this movie version) I am horrified by the major changes that were made to the story. To completely cut out the characters of Eponine and Enjorlas, and a little less so, the Thenardiers alone is something horrible.

    Also, it seemed to focus more on Marius and Cosette's relationship than Valjean.

    Overall, I would not recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the book or the Les Miserables fandom in general. If you really want to watch a movie version I would suggest the 1934 one.

    However if you have no previous experience with Les Mis then you may enjoy it more than I did.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Hollywood strikes again...

    Michael Rennie starts an Jean Valjean a convict who escapes captivity and then sets about redeeming his life. Once he thinks he has his life in order he is found by Javert a policeman who will stop at nothing to uphold the law.

    Miscast (I think only the supporting roles seem right) and horribly abbreviated this film plays like a greatest hits version of the story with everything geared to getting to the next key bit. The result is all of the characters seem like cardboard cut outs rather than real people. Its not bad but there are so many other better, versions of the story I think its a waste of time and effort to see this one.

    Watching the the film on Turner Classic Movies tonight I was struck by the horrible thought that once I got through the film I would never have to see it again. Personally I would rather watch the version by Raymond Bernard again or almost any of the other version of the story.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Lewis Milestone 's main merit here was to make a 105 min film out of a mammoth novel.This is the shortest version I know,and ,being French,I have seen plenty of them.This is the only version which does not feature the Thenardier family,which is a bit infuriating (like filming "David Copperfield" without the Murdstone brother and sister).For instance,the most famous scene in the whole novel,this scene every French pupil has studied once in his life where Cosette is given a doll by Valjean.

    Apart from being "shortened" the plot has undergone some changes :Fantine meets Cosette for instance ,and of course Valjean survives (like in the more recent version featuring Liam Neeson).Gavroche is given very little time and the scene of his death,another strong moment of the novel is not on the screen:but as Gavroche is Thenadier's son,it makes sense.

    Nevertheless,the story is well told and it is a wonder,considering the "adaptation" ,that the plot retains a certain coherence,focusing on the Valjean/Javert chase.Generally the actors shine in this part and Robert Newton is no exception.He gives the best performance in the movie.Debra Paget is the prettiest Cosette I know.Good support come s from Robertson Justice as Robert and Edmund Gwenn as Mgr Myriel the bishop(Courbet (?) in the movie).Sylvia Sidney ,an actress extraordinaire in Lang's movies,does not find one of her best parts with Fantine though.

    This is not a version I would recommend to someone who has read the book however.

    Like this?try these....

    French versions Raymond Bernard 1933: the best version and the best Valjean (Baur) Jean Paul Le Chanois 1958 :starring Jean Gabin as Valjean but ,like in Milestone's film,Bernard Blier's Javert steals the show.

    Robert Hossein 1982:Although praised by the critics at time of release (and spawning a musical which was played on every stage of the world),it's not an improvement on the 1933 version
  • The REAL reason to see this film is to watch Robert Newton as Javert. Javert was a gypsy born in prison who, by shear force of will on his part, has gotten himself into a position of power. He is inflexible and Spartan in his life style and expects as much or more of himself than he does his acquaintances, (he has no friends), and those he rules over.

    The problem with the film is that Michael Rene is nothing like Hugo's massive peasant, Valjean. Jean Valjean was a stocky, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested man of only average height and a low center of gravity, Not the tall, slender, elegant Rene. AND, Rene was only an average actor. Deborah Paget couldn't act at all, she was there for pure decoration value.

    See this film for Newton's Javert. He is superb.
  • There have been dozens of film adaptations of Victor Hugo's classic story, starting from the silent era. I've seen a few, and each version seems to have their own strengths and weaknesses. In the 1952 version, the strengths are the two leads playing Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert: Michael Rennie and Robert Newton. Michael puts his whole heart into this movie and tries as hard as he can to make it better, and of course, Bobbie is always a wonderfully menacing villain.

    The weaknesses, I'm sorry to say, are quite large. Sylvia Sidney isn't bad as Fantine, but unfortunately, she has a very small part. The larger female lead is the role of Cosette. Debra Paget, who should never have been cast in a drama, let alone a period piece, plays Cosette. She could easily be the worst one in the movie, but her romantic scenes are paired with Cameron Mitchell as Marius. The character of Marius is supposed to be rather innocent, handsome, strong, hopeful, and above all, easy to root for. Cameron Mitchell is none of those things! I would have laughed at the idea that he was supposed to be trustworthy and sincere, but I was too busy cringing.

    Everyone likes to put his own spin on things, so as you might expect, there are some slight differences to the plot in this one. As hard as Michael and Bobbie try to make their performances the only ones the audiences will remember, Cameron and Debra are overwhelmingly contemporary and miscast. This one isn't my favorite, but I've yet to see a perfect version. With so many characters, there are bound to be actors in every adaptation who threaten to ruin the rest of the movie.
  • This is the best version of Les Miserables that has been made to date. I have seen all but the french version and this surpasses them. Michael Rennie is EXCELLENT as Jean Valjean. Its even better than the play.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    20th Century's 1935 (Fredric March) version of this story was so successful that the studio (by then 20th Century Fox), as early as 1941, intended to produce a sequel. But initial plans for this new version fell through. Filming of this version finally began in 1951. Richard Murphy's script was to some extent derived (in some scenes it seems almost plagiarized) from the 1935 movie. But the 1952 film focuses on Valjean and Javert, and differs in major ways from its predecessor. And while it leaves out a great deal of Hugo's story, it inserts some characters and events that are absent from the novel.

    Like the earlier version, the 1952 film begins with Valjean's trial and hard time on a galley. After facing discrimination as an ex-convict, Valjean finds food and shelter with a Bishop. He steals the Bishop's silverware, but the Bishop excuses this act and even gives Valjean two silver candlesticks, telling him, "It is the giver who receives the gift, . . . he feels he has done something generous and noble that sets him above other men." Valjean sells some of the silverware, but not the candlesticks. In a small town, he stops a runaway carriage, saving the life of the owner's grandson, who was riding in it (an event not in the novel). Valjean chooses to disregard his parole's reporting requirements, remain in town, assume the name "Madeleine," and purchase the local pottery factory. In the factory, he encounters its foreman, "Robert" (a character not found in Hugo's novel), who becomes Valjean's alter ego.

    As a reward for his successful management of the factory, the town selects Madeleine as its mayor; and in this role he encounters Police Inspector Javert, whom he met while a prisoner. In this film, Javert (in a manner reminiscent of TV's Columbo) seems suspicious of Valjean from their first meeting. While on the galley, Valjean demonstrates his great strength by lifting a large beam. In many screen versions of the story, Javert remembers this exploit, and becomes suspicious when Madeleine/Valjean lifts a heavy cart to save a man trapped under it. But, curiously, the 1952 movie does not include the cart-lifting scene. In this film, we do not meet Fantine until, fired from her job at Valjean's factory, she is desperately worried about her daughter Cosette, whom she has left with an unnamed innkeeper and his wife. This movie omits the sacrifices--selling her hair, her teeth, and her body--that Hugo ascribes to her in the novel. Instead, we watch her walking along the street, and see her as she fights with a drunk who accosts her. For this, she is apprehended by Javert, who intends to imprison her, but Valjean insists that she be released. In a significant exchange, Javert says, "This is a matter of law." Valjean responds, "This is a matter of justice." After learning about Cosette, Valjean brings her to Fantine, with no mention of the Thenardiers or Cosette's life with them.

    Javert, still suspicious and watching Valjean carefully, informs the mayor that he will be going to Arras in connection with the case of Champmathieu, who has wrongly been identified as Valjean, and is about to be sent to the galleys. Valjean's conscience compels him to attend the trial to prove Champmathieu innocent (Rennie plays the part of Champmathieu). Prior to his confession, Javert continues to eye Valjean. As Valjean tells Fantine that he will be going away, and assures her that Robert will care for Cosette, Javert arrives to arrest Valjean. The trauma of this encounter leads to Fantine's death. Valjean chokes Javert and escapes.

    The film jumps ahead to the time of Cosette's last year at the convent, where she is a student and Valjean is a gardener. Following a disturbance outside the convent, Marius appears, jumping over the convent wall to avoid the police, and nursing a minor wound from a saber. Valjean conceals Marius in his cottage, where Cosette discovers Marius and attends to his wound. Somehow, Cosette knows Gavroche (perhaps from her time with the Thenardiers, although this is not explained) and sends him to the university to arrange a meeting between herself and Marius. Thereafter, they meet a number of times. The police are watching Marius as a possible revolutionary. And Javert is assigned to investigate Cosette, who may be implicated in his activities.

    Valjean fears that, if Marius visits his house, the police may follow him and discover Valjean's presence. When Marius comes to the house, and announces his plan to marry Cosette, Valjean objects strongly, "She's a child." Marius responds, "Whether you know it or not, you're in love with her and you want her for yourself." But Cosette feels an obligation to Valjean and plans to accompany him to England. Later, Marius sends a note to Cosette, begging her not to sacrifice herself to Valjean's selfishness. He promises to follow her wherever she goes. But Gavroche delivers this note to Valjean, who reads it, and is forced to reconsider his attitude toward Cosette. Consequently, he goes to the barricade to see Marius, followed by Javert. He tells Marius that he loves Cosette, but not in the way Marius thinks. In fact, Valjean loves her too much to stand in the way of her happiness, so he says Marius is free to go to her. But Marius now feels obligated to remain at the barricade. "What Paris does tonight, France does tomorrow."

    Then, finding that Javert has been seized by the rebels, Valjean seeks permission to deal with him. He levels a pistol at Javert, apparently intending to shoot him, but then releases him instead. Marius is wounded in the melee, and Valjean, pursued by Javert, carries Marius through the sewers and all the way to his house. Here, Javert confronts him. As in the 1935 film, Javert attempts to absolve himself of personal responsibility: "I am an officer of the law doing my duty. It makes no difference what I think or feel or want. It has nothing to do with me. Nothing. Can't you see that?" But, when Valjean, exhausted from his efforts, can't move Marius by himself, Javert assists him, and then waits while Valjean says goodbye to Cosette. While Javert is waiting to take Valjean into custody, Robert remarks that Valjean will be sent back to the galleys for life, and asks Javert bitterly, "How does success taste after all these years, Inspector?" Ready to surrender himself to Javert, Valjean discovers that the inspector has disappeared. He looks down the street just in time to see Javert jump into the river, then he returns to his house and embraces Cosette.

    Many of the novel's characters and events are absent from this film: Gillenormand, George Pontmercy, Eponine and the Thenardiers (except for Gavroche, whose role is minimized), Fantine's relationship with Tholomyes, Eponine's relationship with Marius, the Gorbeau House ambush, Eponine's thwarting of Thenardier's attack on Valjean and Cosette, Gavroche's death, Marius' discovery that it was Valjean who carried him through the sewers, Javert's suicide, and Valjean's death.

    There are some issues with the casting and the script. Because of the film's focus on Valjean and Javert, most cast members are not given sufficient screen time in which to portray their characters. Michael Rennie was 42 when Les Miserables was filmed. With appropriate make-up, his appearance as a convict is credible; but he is not convincing as Valjean in later years, when Vajean would have been in his early 60s. As Javert, Robert Newton is extremely focused and unemotional. (He has a similar role as Inspector Fix, who pursues Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days.) Sylvia Sidney was 41 when this movie was produced, perhaps a little old for Fantine; but she puts a lot of emotion into her performance. Marius and Cosette come across as rather superficial. Debra Paget, at 18, was about the right age for grown-up Cosette; but this makes her a bit old to be the little girl rescued by Valjean (in the novel, Cosette was then 8 years old). At 33, Cameron Mitchell was too old to be Marius--in some scenes, he looks older than Valjean. More importantly, the script has this character completely wrong. In the movie, Marius is a well-dressed, dogmatic, outspoken leader; in the novel, he is none of the above.

    The film employs 81 sets, including the interior of a French galley, 2 villages, the Bishop's rectory, a pottery factory, a convent, Paris streets, and a 1/8-mile sewer system. Some sets are more realistic than others. Alex North's music is sometimes overbearing and occasionally bizarre, as with the almost playful piccolo parts we hear in the barricade scenes, and the snare drum that anticipates Javert's suicide as if it were a circus act.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I guess this is about the most filmed of Hugo's novels and it's understandable. It probes the distinction between "the law" and "justice," which aren't always concordant.

    The story must be fairly familiar. ("The Fugitive" was a shameless rip off.) The tattered, exhausted, starving, bitter, soulless Jean Valjean (Rennie), just out of prison for having stolen a loaf of bread, is taken in by a kindly Bishop, who cares for him and gives him a bed. In return, Valjean gets up early, steals all the silverware and makes off with it. He's caught by the police but the Bishop lies and claims the silver was a gift. It's one of the things I like about the story -- and about many of Dickens' tales too. The poor lead wretched lives but they're hardly all heroes. These stories probe the distinction between "adult stories" and "propaganda." Sent away with the silver and the Bishop's blessings, Valjean gets himself cleaned up and becomes part owner, then full owner, of a pottery shop that prospers under his management. He becomes so well known that he's elected mayor. But in doing so he breaks his parole and, if he's caught, will spend the rest of his life in prison. The likelihood of that's happening increases when the mentally rigid Inspector Javert (Newton) is assigned as head of the district's police force. The son of a convict himself, Newton was one of Rennie's guards in the prison galleys and considers him suspect. His suspicions are confirmed when Rennie sacrifices himself in order to save a confused old man who was mistaken for him.

    Thereafter, the story gets more complicated -- it's based on an almost endless novel, more than 1400 pages divided into more than 300 chapters.

    Rennie's adopted daughter, Cosette (Paget), takes up with a young revolutionary (Mitchell), and conflicts ensure. This plot thread probes the difference between "romantic love" and "familial love" because, for all we know, the young Debra Paget being the dish she is, she may be Lolita to Rennie's Humbert Humbert. That's what Mitchell thinks, anyway. For some reason I never cared much for Mitchell as an actor, or for his sympathetic but hot-headed character, Marius. They were rebelling against the captains of industry and the robber barons who were making fortunes at the expense of everyone else, just as in much of the rest of the industrialized world, okay, but violence tends to beget violence. Besides, I can't remember a single powerful performance from Cameron Mitchell. He may have been a nice guy in real life, loved his dog, collected pressed roses. Let's see. I think I've covered the Cameron Mitchell business. Ah, but the strawberries. The strawberries! That's where I had them! You should see me "do" Humphrey Bogart. My son tells me it's terrific, although I have to beat him into saying it.

    In the end, it's hard to compare the various filmed versions of "Les Miserables." For one thing, I haven't seen that many of them. For another, the main theme of pursuit by a single-minded neurotic aside, there are so many plot threads to be followed with varying degrees of detail, that each version is almost like a different movie. The most "realistic" version that I've seen is unquestionably the rendition starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean and Uma Thurman as Cosette's prostitute mother who dies of tuberculosis. When Thurman coughs, she spits up blood. And Geoffrey Rush as Javert was superb. The version with Frederick March, like the one under discussion, is given the broad Hollywood treatment and is nice and taut, but tastes differ.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    . . . misidentified as "witches," or burning Saint Joan, or shipping all of the country's synagogue worshipers to the Fuehrer's ovens, or abandoning an entire army to Russia's Winter, or making the last days in THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA miserable (ditto Vincent Van Gogh), or inventing the shorty "Napoleon Complex," or diminishing the Civilized World's collective life span by at least 1.5 billion years (and counting) with infamous egregious fatty foods (e.g., snails and tortured water fowl!), the French are eternally myopic, inhumane and morally satanic. (They would not even enforce the fire code in their most renown coven, willing it instead to be destroyed by Hellfire!) LES MISERABLES barely scratches the surface of the French grease berg, but at least it gives viewers the certainty that France is, was and always will be an infernal place to live (or even visit!).
  • Les miserables (1952)

    *** (out of 4)

    Slick production of Victor Hugo's classic novel has Michael Rennie in the role of Jean Valjean and Robert Newton as the Inspector hounding him for decades. This is only the second version of the novel that I've seen (the 1935 being the first) so it's hard for me to compare various versions but it's interesting some of the changes made here. Of course we get small changes like the amount of money owed Valjean after he's released from jail but the final chase through the sewers is changed a bit and some of the overall attitudes towards the two leads are also changed. I think these type of changes always make for an interesting viewing experience when it comes to often filmed stories like this one, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and various others. While there's a lot to enjoy here I think the biggest issue is the performance of Rennie. He has proved that he could be great in certain roles but I found here pretty bland here and not the least bit interesting. His performance here will remind plenty of his one in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL but where that laid back approach worked for that classic, it really hurts this film. I never really bought him in the role and instead of seeing and feeling the character it felt more like I was watching an actor struggle with a part. Newton on the other hand is one I really enjoyed. He played the part with a nice coldness that comes through quite well but he also adds a stern, father-like touch that make the character stand out. Debra Paget, Cameron Mitchell and Elsa Lanchester round out the cast. The music score is an effective one and the cinematography is top-notch. Milestone handles the material quite well and he really makes a beautiful looking film with plenty of style and some really good looking shots. I think it would be fair to say that this is a handsome production but it's missing some of the heart and soul of the earlier version.