Les Misérables ★★★

The two reasons to see this narratively breezy, heavily simplified version of the Hugo novel from the in-transition Fox studio are the casting -- with Charles Laughton a brilliantly understated, surprisingly emotional but still chilling Jalvert and Fredric March uneven but engaging as Valjean (he's great at playing him as a bum, as an upstanding citizen, and as a sulking cad, but fails to connect the dots between the three performances) -- and the often lovely cinematography from none other than Gregg Toland, who doesn't get to show off and really go to town like in his best work but nevertheless squeezes in some beautiful shots. Richard Boleslawski can't be faulted for any real shortcomings with the film as a work of narrative delivery, and he does sense the occasional visual opportunity, but as in so many adaptations of this text the coherence and excitement fades with the move into the chaotic third act, and it doesn't feel like the director really does anything especially significant or interesting with the source either. (But thank god no one sings.)