Director: Raymond Bernard
Year Released: 1934
This splendid adaptation of Victor Hugo's legendary novel is in three parts and runs five hours long: it begins with the great Jean Valjean (played beautifully by Harry Baur, himself a tragic figure) getting out of prison and trying to make peace with himself and the corrupt inhabitants of the world, going so far as to save a prostitute's daughter, become the noble mayor of a small town and take part in the revolution (all the while dodging the persistent Inspector Javert). Even with the extended running time it still misses details of Hugo's text and does, during the revolution sequence in Part III, lose a bit of the human dimension (Bernard a bit too engrossed in staging the conflict), but Bernard's attention to detail pays out in almost every other aspect, from the various sets (both grim and pristine) to the haggard wardrobe to the curiously slanted camera angles. This version is considerably better than the severely-truncated Hollywood version from 1935 with Fredric March and Charles Laughton and - even though I haven't seen all of them - most likely every version to follow (to date).