Richard Boleslawski directed this lavish adaptation of Victor Hugo's oft-filmed epic novel. Fredric March stars as Jean Valjean, who is hauled into prison for stealing a loaf of bread. After ten years at hard labor, he escapes from the merciless prison but the years have taken their toll and Valjean is now a hard and embittered man. Valjean regains his compassion after the kindly Bishop Bienveenu (Cedric Harwicke) refuses to prosecute him for the theft of his candlesticks. Under an assumed name, Valjean becomes a widely liked and respected mayor. He devotes his life to helping others and adopts a young girl as his own. But the town's chief of police, Javert (Charles Laughton) is suspicious about the mayor and one day, after Valjean lifts a wagon off of a man, Javert remembers Valjean from his days on the prison galley. Javert sets out to uncover the mayor's true identity, but Valjean beats him to it -- when a man who claims to be Valjean is put on trial, Valjean appears at the court and reveals his secret. But before he is arrested, he escapes with his adopted daughter Cosette (Rochelle Hudson) to Paris. In Paris, he assumes yet another identity. Cosette falls in love with student radical Marius (John Beal) and Javert, assigned to Paris to keep an eye on the revolutionaries, latches onto Valjean's trail once again. As Paris simmers in revolution, Valjean and Javert reveal themselves to each other for a final confrontation.
by Paul Brenner synopsis