• With the stage musical Les Misérables coming to the big screen in one of Hollywood’s most anticipated releases of the holiday season, it seemed a good time to remind you about Raymond Bernard’s extraordinary 1934 cinematic adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic novel of the same name. This Les misérables is widely considered the best of the many screen versions of the beloved book. A masterpiece of the early sound era of French filmmaking, it is at once majestic and intimate, featuring cinematography by Jules Kruger (who also served behind the camera on Abel Gance’s legendary Napoleon) and art direction by Jean Perrier, who dazzlingly recreated nineteenth-century Paris. And in its nearly five-hour running time, the film is able to fully immerse the viewer in Hugo’s breathtakingly expansive story.

    Of course, no Les misérables would function at all without a forceful Jean Valjean. Here, in perhaps the definitive characterization, the iconic role is inhabited by the mountainous Harry Baur (a frequent star of Julien Duvivier films), who gracefully embodies Valjean’s physical strength and innate goodness. Watch Baur in this classic scene early in the film, in which Valjean, a recently escaped convict, is taught a lesson in kindness by a good-hearted bishop.

11 comments

  • By Jonathan Dearborn
    December 18, 2012
    07:12 PM

    Right on, best version ever,Cheers and thanks.
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  • By Batzomon
    December 18, 2012
    09:47 PM

    It's the only screen version and only exposure to Hugo's novel, and really, I don't see how it could be improved with singing. Just sayin'.
    Reply
  • By rv branham
    December 19, 2012
    02:53 AM

    i am always gobsmacked that more people do not know raymond bernard. i'd like to see both of his eclipse titles on bluray, but esp. his le mis...
    Reply
  • By Sean
    December 20, 2012
    01:09 AM

    I like Musicals such as Singing in The Rain and Even The Sound Of Music. But a remake of this film as a musical! Uh no thank you I'm going to give this nearly five hour epic a look in January just before the remake comes out in February and when someone says you gotta see this one I'll tell them I saw the original French version of the film and they'll be going what! But where did you see it? On Hulu Plus!
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    • By TheDirector
      December 24, 2012
      01:25 PM

      You seemed to be confused. They did not remake this film as a musical: decades ago the book was adapted as a musical, which was enormously successful and is beloved today. They are now translating that musical to film. Whether or not you were aware of this, your comment that they were 'remak[ing] this film as a musical' was inaccurate and at least slightly ignorant, seeing as this film was adapting from a book.
  • By Al Hirst
    December 20, 2012
    03:05 PM

    When I noticed Les Miserables at the top I was genuinely excited and really surprised. For just a moment I thought it was the 1995 Belmondo version. Oh well, I still live in hope. I can't imagine why this masterpiece has been overlooked so long. I feel the same way about Stavisky.
    Reply
  • By Sleestak
    December 24, 2012
    12:13 AM

    Nothing bothers me more than a film snob but I guess I'll just get a little hypocritical here. The thought of Hugh Jackson playing Jean Valjean is absolutely hysterical. Harry Baur embodied this character, not the Wolverine. I do hope this film makes a gazillion at the box office because maybe folks will check the original out and then delve into other French films and then maybe into the Criterion Collection.
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    • By Chief Kurtz
      January 15, 2013
      06:19 PM

      Who is Hugh Jackson?
    • By Sleestak
      March 26, 2013
      12:16 AM

      Sorry dude, I don't subscribe to Entertainment Weekly.
  • By Kenneth K.
    December 29, 2012
    12:39 AM

    Those 10 final seconds of this shot after Valjean leaves makes all the difference between this film adaptation and the others. It is not idealistically or historiographically shaped like Bille August's adaptation; not Wagnerian like Richard Boleslawski adaptation, scored by Alfred Newman; oh, and not a musical, like Tom Hooper's (of course, that's not his fault, exactly…). With Bernard, the drama comes from human faith and all of its baggage.
    Reply
  • By Kenneth K.
    December 29, 2012
    12:44 AM

    ^^^By "this shot", of course, I meant the last shot where the bishop closes the door after Valjean. Watching the bishop like he has the world on his mind makes all the difference you need. Real human drama.
    Reply

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