There have been many film adaptations of Victor Hugo’s timeless novel, Les Misérables, but after watching the 1935 film starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton last night, I am in no rush to see any of the others. It is, quite simply, perfect.
This movie says more in one hour and forty-eight minutes than most other movies (especially more recent ones) say in two or three hours. A riveting tale of unjust laws, poverty, inhumanity, cruelty, compassion, love, mercy, doubt, and morality, this is one of the most moving and inspiring movies I have ever seen. And just as relevant for us to today as it was in 1935 and when Victor Hugo wrote the book, first published in 1862.
We need movies like this to remind us (and in such complex and jaded times as these we do need constant reminding) that idealism can help each of us navigate through life, and—no matter what burdens we bear—to make the world a better place. Not a single minute in this movie is wasted, so artfully is each and every scene of the movie constructed. If you tire of (and are horrified by) the seemingly endless stream of dystopian prognostications in recent years, this movie is the perfect antidote. There is an alternative to a ruined world, and that change begins with you and me right now.
All of the film adaptations of Les Misérables, including this one, have a number of departures from the original novel by Victor Hugo. Behind every great movie there is usually an even greater book, and I have been remiss in never having read Hugo’s classic. That deficiency will be rectified soon.