Les Misérables (1958 film)

Les Misérables
Directed by Jean-Paul Le Chanois
Screenplay by Michel Audiard
René Barjavel
Based on Les Misérables
by Victor Hugo
Starring Jean Gabin
Music by Georges Van Parys
Cinematography Jacques Natteau
Edited by Lieselotte Johl
Emma Le Chanois
Deutsche Film (DEFA)
Distributed by Pathé (France)
VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb (East Germany)
Continental Distributing (US)
Release dates
  • 12 March 1958 (1958-03-12) (France)
  • 16 January 1959 (1959-01-16) (East Germany)
Running time
217 minutes
Country France
East Germany
Language French
Box office 9,968,993 admissions (France)[1]

Les Misérables is a 1958 French-East German-Italian film adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel released in France on 12 March 1958. Written by Michel Audiard and René Barjavel, the film was directed by Jean-Paul Le Chanois. It stars Jean Gabin as Jean Valjean.[2]


The bishop's background is briefly sketched rather than detailed as in the novel. Javert is a young boy, the son of a guard in the Toulon prison, when he sees Valjean as a convict. Sister Simplice admits Valjean and Cosette to the convent instead of Father Fauchevent. Thénardier, in disguise, meets Marius and proves to him with the help of newspaper clippings that he is completely mistaken about Valjean's criminal past.



Called "the most memorable film version", it was filmed in East Germany and was overtly political.[3] Of the many film adaptations of the novel, this has been called "the one most popular with audiences in postwar France".[4] One noteworthy plot change was made to accommodate the fact that the actors playing the roles of Valjean and Javert were far apart in age, rather than near contemporaries as in the novel. Instead of Javert recognizing Valjean as a convict he had often guarded years earlier, he remembers how, when he was just a boy, his prison guard father had pointed out this man as "the worst kind of prisoner, who tried to escape four times".[3]


The movie was a massive hit in France, the second most popular of 1958.[1]

The New York Times described it as one of the first French "blockbusters" that appeared in response to such lengthy feature films as Around the World in 80 Days and The Ten Commandments. It said it was "a ponderous four-hour retelling of Victor Hugo's oft-filmed epic.... Not a page is skipped... Too literary, it has the saving grace of Jean Gabin's truly heroic depiction of Jean Valjean plus some stirring scenes on the barricades."[5] It was a "quintessential Gabin role ... that of a loner, an outsider, usually a member of the lower orders who may flirt with love and happiness but knows they are not for him".[6]

The film did not premiere in New York until July 1989, when it ran to coincide with the celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution.[4]


  1. 1 2 "Most Admissions 1958". Box Office Story. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  2. Les Misérables (1958 film) at IMDB retrieved 30 March 2008
  3. 1 2 Behr, Edward (1989). The Complete Book of Les Misérables. NY: Arcade. pp. 152–3.
  4. 1 2 Van Gelder, Lawrence (7 July 1989). "Jean Gabin In 'Les Miz,' In French". New York Times. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  5. Moskowitz, Gene (20 April 1958). "Films along the Seine". New York Times. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  6. Hess, John L. (16 November 1976). "Jean Gabin, 72, French Film Star who Played Hero-Victim, is Dead". New York Times. Retrieved 27 January 2013.

External links

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