Thursday, 11 August 2011

Places: France/Films and cinema: Les Misérables (1934, Raymond Bernard).

Sourced from the Wikipedia page 'Les Misérables (1934 film)'...because I live dangerously...

Les Misérables is a 1934 film adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel of the same name. It was written and directed by Raymond Bernard and stars Harry Baur as Jean Valjean and Charles Vanel as Javert. The 4.5 hour film is considered by critics to be the greatest ever adaptation of the novel, due to its in-depth development of the themes and characters, and its more faithful take on the book, unlike most (shorter) adaptations.
It consists of three films released separately over a period of three weeks.
  • Part One: Une tempête sous un crâne (Tempest in a Skull)
  • Part Two: Les Thénardier (The Thenardiers)
  • Part Three: Liberté, liberté chérie (Freedom, dear Freedom)

Jean Valjean is an ex-convict struggling to redeem himself, but his attempts are continually ruined by the intrusion of Javert into his life. Javert is a cruel, ruthless police inspector who has dedicated his life to pursuing Valjean, whose only crime was stealing a loaf of bread, and later, breaking parole.
The film, like the novel, features numerous other characters and plots, such as Fantine, a woman forced into prostitution to help pay two cruel innkeepers, the Thénardiers, who are looking after her daughter Cosette, and the story of the revolutionaries, including Marius, a young man who falls in love later on in the film with the now-adult Cosette.


  • Harry Baur as Jean Valjean & Champmathieu
  • Charles Vanel as Javert
  • Florelle as Fantine
  • Josseline Gaël as Cosette
  • Jean Servais as Marius
  • Orane Demazis as Éponine
  • Charles Dullin as M. Thénardier
  • Marguerite Moreno as Mme. Thénardier
  • Émile Genevois as Gavroche
  • Robert Vidalin as Enjolras
  • Gaby Triquet as Cosette (child)
  • Henry Krauss as Monseigneur Myriel

Differences from the novel

The film is, for the most part, faithful to the original novel, however, there are some differences:
  • Javert is presented as considerably less sympathetic than in the book, largely portraying him as the pinnacle of the cruelty in 19th century France.
  • Valjean is released after having saved a house from caving in, not because his time is served.
  • Not Fantine's last, but her first evening with Tholomyès is shown.
  • Valjean's re-arrest after his escape from Montreuil's prison and escape from the "Orion" are left out.
  • Valjean and Cosette's stay at the Gorbeau House, their dodging of Javert and their arrival at the Petit-Picpus convent is entirely left out. After they leave the Thénardiers, the film jumps to Cosette's sixteenth birthday.
  • Cosette and Marius are already lovers before the attack on Valjean in the Gorbeau House.
  • Marius is already acquainted with Éponine and Gavroche before the attack at Gorbeau House.
  • When Marius notifies Javert of the Thénardiers' plans, he is also able to give Javert Valjean's address, at least one of them. Javert comes to this address after the robbery and recognises Valjean there. Valjean has to flee to his other house, where he finds Marius and Cosette. After Marius reveals what he has done, expecting gratitude, Valjean sends him away. Only Cosette's pleas make him change his mind, but only after Marius left.
  • Valjean does not meet Thénardier in the sewers.
  • Valjean presents himself to Gillenormand when taking Marius home. Gillenormand, Marius and Cosette have therefore always known the identity of Marius' saviour.
  • Valjean dies shortly after his confession to Marius, the day after the wedding, due to a wound which appeared to have become infected (probably due to the sewer water).

Critical reaction

The film has been referred to as "the most complete and well rounded adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel".
Raymond Bernard's version of Les Misérables was chosen by curator Robert Herbert as one of a number of films to support an exhibition of French drawings held in 2010 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The Exhibition was entitled David to Cézanne: master drawings from the Prat Collection, Paris. It ran from 22 September until 5 December 2010. The film was screened 30 October, 3 November and 7 November in the Gallery's Domain Theatre.

Home video

The Criterion Collection released Les Misérables under the Eclipse label, along with Bernard's Wooden Crosses (1932) in the Raymond Bernard DVD collection on July 17, 2007.
This version runs around twenty minutes shorter than the original release, although it is entirely possible that the five hour and five minute running time may be inaccurate, or counts intermissions from the original release that are not included in the Criterion release. The liner notes for the DVD describe how the film was reissued at varying lengths over the following decades and was only restored to approximately its original length shortly before Raymond Bernard's death, minus some scenes that could not be recovered.

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