Hailed by film critics around the world as the greatest screen adapation of Victor Hugo’s mammoth nineteenth-century novel, Raymond Bernard’s dazzling, nearly five-hour Les misérables is a breathtaking tour de force, unfolding with the depth and detail of its source. Featuring stunning art direction and cinematography and unforgettable performances by the exquisite Harry Baur (who died tragically during World War II), as Jean Valjean, and the legendary Charles Vanel, as Inspector Javert, Les misérables is one of the triumphs of French filmmaking. —The Criterion Collection
Raymond Bernard was born in Paris on 10th October 1891, the youngest of three sons of the successful playwright Tristan Bernard. He began studying drama at the age of 15, and in 1913 he starred opposite Sarah Bernhardt in a stage play Jeanne Doré, a part written for him by his father. He reprised the role in Louis Mercanton’s 1915 film adaptation of the play, his one and only significant film appearance.
In 1916, Raymond Bernard joined the film production company Gaumont, working as assistant to director Jacques Feyder. He took over from Feyder the direction of Le Ravin sans fond (1917), which was scripted by his father. Thereafter, he gave up acting and pursued a career as a film director. He adapted several comedies written by his father, including Le Petit café (1919) which starred the popular comic actor Max Linder.
Raymond Bernard’s artistic and commercial breakthrough came when he formed the company Société des Grands Films Historiques with the writers Henry… read more
Even at 4½ hours, it necessitates abridgement, inevitably losing subtleties. Even so, its first chapters present a fluid re-telling of Hugo’s document of injustice and revolution; traces of silent age theatre bearing a sprightly cast, visceral drama. Its final act - insurrection - sees it emerge epic in Gance’s sense, ideological conflicts erupting, in a most humanist depiction of war: the fortitude of the fraternity fighting for liberty, its restoration of humanity, and salvation for Jean Valjean, the narrative finis; vive la république, indeed.
A most extraordinary film. Epic in every positive sense of the word, Harry Baur's Jean Valjean makes clear the reason as to why he's considered an icon of French cinema. If you're an admirer of Lean's Dickens adaptations or the silent SPARROWS then you owe it to yourself to see this. Baur's Valjean has something in common with Finlay Currie's Magwitch, which is clearly apparent when one has seen both.