Sunday, February 08, 2009


A version of the much-adapted adventure story by Dumas; far too much plot has been crammed into a two-hour running time, but everything moves along quickly. In 1815, Edmund Dantes (Robert Donat) is a young sailor who innocently winds up in the middle of a plot to bring the exiled Napoleon back to France from Elba. Villefort (Louis Calhern) sends Dantes off to lifetime imprisonment without a trial, covering up for his own father who was the real villain. In the island prison of Chateau d'If, Dantes wastes away for eight years until he is befriended by the Abbe Faria (O.P. Heggie) who has been slowly but steadily digging an escape route to the sea. After eight more years of work, Dantes finally manages to get off the island; the Abbe dies first, but leaves Dantes instruction for finding a hidden treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. With this money, Dantes spends a few more years plotting an elaborate revenge against Villefort and his collaborators, the traitorous sailor Danglars (Raymond Walburn) and the aristocrat Mondego (Sidney Blackmer), who has since married Dantes' former sweetheart (Elissa Landi). There is a rather startling suicide scene which I'm surprised got past the newly-enforced Production Code, a swordfight, a duel, and a well-staged climax in a courtroom.

I've never read the book--and at this stage in my life, I'm not likely to--but most critics say this is a solid adaptation, though it leaves out major plotlines. As it is, plot points in the last half go whizzing by too quickly, but the story never becomes hard to follow. I'm not a big fan of Donat but his placid demeanor works here, giving his moments of flash more impact. Landi is given little to do, but the rest of the cast is excellent, not just the three villains but also Heggie as the wise and almost ethereral Abbe, Georgia Caine as Landi's mother, and Luis Alberni and Clarence Muse as Donat's assistants in revenge. The story's reputation as a "swashbuckler" doesn’t quite seem deserved, as there is very little swordsmanship on display, but once we get past the exposition of the opening, which have to do with the French politics of the day, the movie moves along quite nicely and never stops. This film has apparently been mostly seen lately in a chopped-down and colorized 90-minute version, but the complete black-and-white 113-minute film has aired on Turner Classic. The print is not in perfect shape, but it's worth catching. [TCM]

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