Following the success of both The Count Of Monte-Cristo and The Man In The Iron Mask, in 1978, ITC re-teamed with Norman Rosemont Productions to produce a star-studded version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping tale of injustice and redemption.
Not every classic novel makes a classic film but Hugo’s 1,500 page book has been luckier than most. Respect for the source-material and the enduring popularity of the French author’s work has ensured that most adaptations are surprisingly sure-footed.
While not as ambitious nor as dramatic as the epic French four-hour version, released in 1938, this ‘70s take on the classic story, is done with a fair amount of flair. The decision to play out the drama strictly in chronological order does mean that some characters and events are missing, but the result is a sweeping and eminently watchable drama.
John Gielgud, Ian Holm, Celia Johnson and Flora Robson add some British big names to the production, but the stars here are the Americans, with Richard Jordan (The Hunt For The Red October) arguably giving a career-best performance as the courageous Jean Valjean. Anthony Perkins (Psycho) also deserves applause, playing the despicable Javert with class and nuance.
Jean Valjean is cruelly sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. After serving his sentence, he is intent on revenge but is persuaded to turn the other cheek by a friendly priest. Adopting a new identity, he tries his best to become an honest man, but a chance encounter with the former Inspector of Prisoners sets both men on a path towards their shared, bloody fate.
Network’s new release is available on DVD and blu-ray, and includes a host of special features including all-new interviews with actors Christopher Guard (Mauius), Timothy Morand (Enjolras), and first assistant director Bill Westley.