Les Miserables (1918)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Period Film  |   Countries - United States  |  
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Synopsis by Hal Erickson

Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables had already been adapted to film at least a dozen times when this lavish 1917 version emanated from the walls of the Fox studios. Virile William Farnum stars as French peasant Jean Valjean, whose descent into Hell begins when he steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Sentenced to work as a galley slave, Valjean spends twenty long years in captivity, and even when released he cannot escape persecution, thanks to the ruthless doggedness of police inspector Javert (Hardee Kirkland). Only a portion of the Hugo novel could be used (after all, the film only ran ninety minutes), but the most famous episodes -- the Bishop's Candlesticks, the Street Rebellion et. al. -- were faithfully re-created by director Frank Lloyd. And while William Farnum may not have been ideally suited for the role of the benighted Valjean, he was Fox's biggest male box-office attraction at the time -- and besides, his previous collaboration with director Lloyd, A Tale of Two Cites, had earned a fortune for the studio. Anyone in 1917 who thought that this was the definitive version of Les Miserables was in for a surprise, as the innumerable subsequent stage and screen remakes will attest.