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Friday, October 10, 2008


Raymond Bernard needed a suitably grand subject after WOODEN CROSSES/’31, his fine and sorrowful WWI epic, but Victor Hugo’s extravagant plotting and romantic fatalism ill suit his strengths. It’s all handsomely produced and easily fills the three part/five-hour structure, but the characterizations have been flattened out in comparison to so many other versions. The 1935 Hollywood version has its appeal, but sadly two superb French silents, one from 1913 (at nearly the same length) and 1925 (at a full seven hours with heaps of narrative missing elsewhere) are all but impossible to get hold of. (Don’t forget Orson Welles’ fine 3.5 hour radio spectacular which is out in a CD edition.) Scene by scene, there are many fine things here, especially in the Paris riots in Part Three, but Bernard doesn’t seem to be one of those directors who can hold a convoluted, combustible plot in one hand while pulling off filigree work with the other. The film is worthy, but tame.

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