In all the chatter over the startlingly contentious Les Misérables, the one thing that nobody seems to care enough to mention at all is that it’s to day the most faithful English-language cinematic adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 masterpiece that has been made, which is a really depressing thing when you consider how much of a great adaptation it’s not. But then, massive doorstops do tend to fit awkwardly into feature-length movies, be they about magic rings, boy wizards, or French parolees.
It seemed, anyway, like a good excuse to something I would have wanted to do anyway, which is to take us all on a tour of the book’s cinematic fortunes. Thus will every weekend in January find this blog hosting a review of every previous English-language adaptation, as near as I can tell, with the exception of the 1929 short The Bishop’s Candlesticks, starring Walter Huston, which seems to be lost. That takes us to 20th Century Fox’s two versions from 1935 and 1952, a British television version from 1978, and an international co-production shot in Prague from 1998 that is undoubtedly the most familiar today, owing to cast of still-vital movie stars.
If things go well, by the way, it will take absolutely no prodding whatsoever for me to dig up a couple of French versions in the months to come; indeed, the only reason I didn’t is because now is because most of them are hard to scrounge up in the United States if you want to be legal about it, and besides, four English adaptations was such a perfect number for four Saturdays. Or three Saturdays and a Sunday, anyway. The grinding, wretched suffering kicks off tomorrow!
In the meanwhile, let me turn back the pages five and a half long years, to share with you my review of Raymond Bernard’s three-part 1934 French adaptation, which is by such an insurmountable margin the best movie version of the story I’ve seen, both in terms of fidelity to Hugo and as pure cinema, that it’s not even funny.