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Victor Hugo's massive novel Les Miserables has spawned many adaptations in many forms over the years, and Twentieth Century Fox can count two respectable versions from its studio heyday. Both are included on this single-disc release. The superior version is the lavish 1935 take, for which producer Darryl F. Zanuck marshaled the studio's resources. While evocatively staged by director Richard Boleslawski and smartly condensed into punchy, vivid scenes, the movie is remembered for its indelible central performances: Fredric March as the hunted Jean Valjean and especially Charles Laughton as his letter-of-the-law pursuer, Inspector Javert. March, a sometimes stagey actor, is at his committed best, notably in the sequence where (in a single-scene second role) he plays the simpleton mistaken for the fugitive Valjean. But Laughton is completely fascinating: cruel and unforgiving, yet neurotic and weak; and Laughton brings out a tortured sexual undercurrent to Javert's pursuit. (Laughton didn't get an Oscar nomination for his performance, but he bagged one the same year for Mutiny on the Bounty; the film itself was nominated in four categories, including nods for Best Picture and Gregg Toland's cinematography.) The 1952 production is similarly handsome, and director Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front) an even more talented filmmaker than Boleslawski. But it misses classic status because of the elusive alchemy of casting. The story may be told serviceably, but Michael Rennie's Christlike Valjean and Robert Newton's steadfast Javert don't catch the magic, giving the result a sort of "Classics Illustrated" quality. But Laughton will haunt your dreams.

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FX2242580 Les Miserables (1935/Fredric March/Charles Laughton-1935/Michael Rennie) $19.98 $17.99