Production Company: 20th Century Pictures
Distributor: United Artists
Top Billed Actors: Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke
IMDb Rating: 7.6
*Best Picture Nominee*
Won 0 Oscars
Nominated for 4 more:
Best Cinematography - Gregg Toland
Best Film Editing - Barbara McLean
Best Assistant Director - Eric Stacey
Plot: A man just wanted a little snack, guys. So he gets arrested and later becomes riff-raff, street rat. Then the struggle between justice and law becomes real.
Frederic March continues to impress as he displays a wide range in his role as Jean Valjean in three distinct stages of his life. March masterfully portrays all facets of the complex character, from a man who is at the end of his rope to someone who only wants to give to others to one who seeks revenge. His facial expressions tell us exactly what he is thinking, which is a great aid to the audience as Valjean is a character that shows he is capable of good and bad (but mostly good). The best example of this is when he nearly renounces his identity as a convict as he stares into a fire. The clever inclusion of the little girl's laugh with March's contemplation is very effective. Right when we think he will let someone else pay for his "crimes," in order to save the girl, he comes to terms with himself and rides to the court to save the man. All is understood in those few seconds by the fire. The adaptation itself should also be commended. The novel is well over 1,000 pages so to create a focused, coherent film with a run time of under two hours is quite the feat.
With that being said, I was sad to learn that Gavroche was written out of the film. The whole third act seemed like it was altered the most from the original story. However, this is a minor complaint as I was overall impressed by the pacing and logic of a trimmed down plot. As far as major complaint, I do not have any. The cinematography is pretty standard with the occasional close-up and an impressive horse chase scene. Nothing stands out as innovative or eye opening. The editing is also nondescript, even though it was nominated. Through no fault of its own, the musical was playing in my head almost the entire time watching it. I guess it would be unfair to wish that this included the great songs written 45 years later.
Overall, this is a solid story that deals with complex decisions with the acting to back them up. March gives an Academy-worthy performance (snubbed!) and the thinned down plot lends itself nicely to 1930's film. However, nothing stands out all too much from a production perspective.
My Score: 7/10