18. Les Miserables: Part 1: Tempest in a Skull (A-)
In 1934, the French director Raymond Bernard produced what remains probably the most comprehensive adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables
for a visual medium (at least, without really straying from the source material; I think there's a Japanese anime that runs to like a full season). It runs to almost five hours, necessitating it being cut into three films and released in theatres separately (so I guess it didn't start with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
, after all). Tempest in a Skull
(I'm not really clear what that means) runs to a little under 2 hours, covering roughly Part 1 ("Fantine") of the novel's five parts (about the first 250 pages, out of 1300 or so).
Obviously, this allows for a lot more detail than you get in most other versions (and apparently there are a few scenes missing, since this version was only really released in the 1970s, having had a very choppy production history; in Part 1, it stands out that there's no initial reaction of Valjean to Javert when he's living and M. Madeleine, though I don't know if that's one of the missing scenes). You get a glimpse of Fantine prior to her working at the factory, the backstory of Champmathieu, more detail on how Valjean made his money, and, perhaps most crucially, the robbery of the boy plays out like it did in the novel.
Harry Baur is a very different Valjean than one is used to seeing. He's imposing, but of noticeable girth, rather than the tall, skinny look of people like Liam Neeson or Hugh Jackman. He's also a lot more stoic, though he has a few very emotional scenes (the director doesn't make much use of closeup emotional reactions, in contrast to Tom Hooper, though they do share a bit of an affinity for slanted camera angles). Charles Vanel, as Javert, is not an especially compelling presence yet, though it's rather early in the story for him. Florelle, the actress playing Fantine, is pretty good, though she has a somewhat distractingly obvious 1930s style to her, particularly the hair (they've also commendably attempted to depict Fantine's loss of her front teeth, but they've done this by painting them black, which works surprisingly well from certain angles, but at other times it's exceedingly obvious).
Home Video: 11 (+1)