This screen version of Victor Hugo's classic novel stars Italian actor Lino Ventura as Jean Valjean, a French peasant who -- driven to desperation by poverty -- steals a loaf of bread only to be caught by the police. After serving a long prison term for this petty theft, Valjean is tempted to return to a life of crime upon his release, but an act of mercy by a kindly Bishop gives him a fresh start. Valjean gains a new determination to build a better life for himself, and in time he becomes a respected citizen, a successful businessman, and the mayor of a small town. However, Javert (Michel Bouquet), who was once a guard at the prison where Valjean was held, is now a police captain and knows the truth about the criminal history Valjean prefers not to discuss. Javert is convinced that Valjean is not as honest as he seems, and he obsessively pursues him, determined to one day put him back behind bars. This was the 16th screen adaptation of Les Miserables, and the 11th to be produced since the introduction of sound.
by Mark Deming synopsis