Les Miserables. While forced into retirement by the displeasure of Napoleon, Victor Hugo wrote his great novel venting protest against the harsh penal system of the day. He meant to proclaim the Christian doctrine that all men are brothers, the hopeful opinion that even the most reprehensible wretch is kin to God. His example is Jean Valjean, a strapping fellow, brutalized by 19 years in the chains of convict labor for the theft of a loaf of bread. The kindness of an old bishop causes the spark to glow in Valjean, so that after his release, he devotes himself to saintly deeds. He becomes mayor of a small French town, befriends a stricken harlot, adopts her child, Cosette. Later he retires to Paris to live quietly with his ward. Because of a trivial offense heedlessly committed after his release, this virtuous man is mercilessly hounded by Police Inspector Javert. At the summit of every achievement, Valjean is forced to flee from the scene of his good work by the appearance of this symbol of lawful duty, this relentless fury. In the end, he saves his oppressor's life.
Though credit be given for faithful transcription of the novel's main episodes against authentic French backgrounds, there still seems to be no justification for coupling, in the theatre lobby, the photographs of Victor Hugo (author) and Carl Laemmle (head of Universal Pictures Corp.).
In the first few minutes the film works up to a climax when bulky Jean Valjean (Gabriel Gabrio) on the point of murdering his benefactor in bed, finds his dagger has been turned powerless by kindness. Thereafter, come only a series of episodes, each of decreasing inten- sity, showing Valjean's achievements punctuated again and again by the fateful Javert.
Cinemaddicts recalled another Les Miserables, in which William Farnum appeared almost a decade ago. Less faithful in transcription, it had, at least, dramatic structure.
Underworld. In the smelly, slinky alleyways of the Chicago tenderloin, the all-round criminal championship is held by "Bull" Weed (George Bancroft), hulking thug, notable for his wide-open laugh & easy-going gun. Only Buck Mulligan (Fred Kohler), who operates a florist's shop in the daytime, challenges Bull's underworld regency. So Bull "bumps him off," precipitating a police investigation and machine-gun play. These scenes roll off the film with a lusty realism that makes it all the more regrettable that the producers should have seen fit to resort to the invariable Hollywood alchemy of turning even the gunman's heart to gold. While in the death house, Bull is disturbed by only one loathsome thought. Suppose his sweetheart, Feathers (Evelyn Brent), and his regenerate drunkard protege, Rolls Royce (Clive Brook), had been the means of double-crossing him into the cuffs of the police? One hour before "burning" time, he breaks jail to settle this doubt, discovers that, although his thuglings have fallen in love right under his bristly chin, they have been loyal to him. Apparently all that really matters to Big Bull is his faith in his fellowmen, for he ambles back to the death cell, at peace with the world.