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Friday, May 23, 2008


Better-than-you-remembered version of the Victor Hugo classic. It has a cleverly condensed script from W. P. Lipscomb (check out his great ‘30s credits) and a marvelous look thanks to Richard Day’s art direction. Plus, fine work from lensing legend Gregg Toland & forgotten helmer Richard Boleslawski (a Stanislavski/Moscow Art Theatre grad who died young & worked in too many genres to develop the cult following he deserves). A few Hollywood conventions may cause a giggle or two, but then so does Hugo’s circular plotting which doesn’t keep it from being sublime. (Hugo's best writing in the novel is his quasi-historical scenes which only show up in some early long-form French silent serials of this mega-novel.) Fredric March is solid as Valjean and smaller plums go to the likes of John Carradine, Cedric Hardwicke & Frances Drake, but the palm goes to Charles Laughton who, at one and the same time, manages to be amazingly subtle & OTT as Inspector Javert. What a look he worked up for the role, and how Boleslawski loves filling the frame with nothing but his flowing black robe and moon-pie face. Thrillingly terrifying stuff from Laughton, but not for thespian fainthearts.

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