Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

Another recently-watched movie that's available on DVD is the 1934 version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Note that the movie is based on the Alexandre Dumas père novel which is in the public domain, so the book has unsurprisingly spawned several movie versions. (Wikipedia lists eight, although I don't know if any of the later ones are from TV movies.) I haven't seen the other movie versions, so I can't comment on them.

Robert Donat plays Edmond Dantès who at the start of the movie is a ship's first mate in the France of early 1815. From the date, you can guess that Napoleon is an issue; at the start of the story he's in exile on Elba, obviously soon to return to France for a couple of months before he faces his Waterloo. The ship's captain is a secret supporter of Napoleon, which is an issue because with the restoration of the monarchy they obviously wanted to stamp out Napoleonism and its supporters. The captain has a secret letter to give to somebody that has to do with bringing Napoleon back to France, but the poor captain dies. So it's up to Dantès to deliver that later, not realizing he's about to get in legal trouble.

Back in port, Edmond has a girlfriend in Mercedes (Elissa Landi) whom he's about to propose to. Her mother isn't so certain she should marry a sailor, and suggests her other suitor, Mondego (Sidney Blackmer) instead. Mondego hears about the letter from one of the ship's officers who didn't get named captain, so Mondego sees his chance, and gets Dantès arrested on trumped-up charges and locked away in the island Château d'If without trial. And then, with Napoleon coming back, he gets Dantès declred dead (not true, of course!), leaving him free to marry Mercedes.

Poor Edmond. Everybody believes him dead, and he's in prison alone. Well, not quite alone as one day he hears some sounds. Those turn out to be the Abbé Faria (O.P. Heggie), who's been scraping away for years trying to tunnel his way to escape. Faria invites Dantès to help, meaning a quicker escape for both, with any luck. But the only luck the Abbé gets is bad, as the tunnel caves in on him, crushing his chest and eventually killing him. But it gives Dantès a chance to escape. That, and the Abbé tells him about the presence of a legendary treasure on the island on Monte Cristo. Dantès finds it, and uses it to gain revenge on the people who wronged him....

Robert Donat is the star here in one of his earlier leads, and milks it for all it's worth. He's good, even when the story elements get ludicrous and strain credulity. Elissa Landi didn't make too many movies, so it's always nice to see her. She's OK here as the one person who recognizes Edmond from her past. But she's got a problem in that she's married to one of his enemies, and she has a son who is going to get ensnared in all of this. In addition of Blackmer, Dantès' enemies are Louis Calhern and Raymond Walburn.

If the movie has a problem, it's at certain points of the story. Some defy belief (the climactic court trial especially), and others make the movie drag a bit. The latter is, I think, not so much the fault of the movie as of the book. All in all, though, the movie is entertaining with nice production values for a United Artists movie. It's well worth a watch.

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