Les Miserables

Few of the 57-odd filmic adaptations of Victor Hugo’s opus are likely to be on your Netflix queue right now. Worth a glance, however, is Jean-Paul Le Chanois’ little-remarked 1958 French-language version, at three hours a surprisingly efficient take on the novel as well as a perfect artifact of a transitional moment in French cinema. The story still suffers from its overabundance of saintly types, but Jean Gabin’s refreshingly matter-of-fact Jean Valjean is less a selfless and guilt-ridden victim of circumstance than a savvy ex-con who understands that morality is a privilege only the wealthy can afford. And as a clear product of monetary heritage itself, between its literary source and the aging actors of prestige cinema, it’s exactly the kind of tried-and-true studio film the New Wavers chased out of town—one of the last of its kind, and for that, a fascinating relic.