Count of Monte Cristo, The (1934)
Release Date: September 7th, 1934 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Rowland V. Lee Actors: Robert Donat, Elissa Landi, Louis Calhern, Sidney Blackmer, O.P. Heggie, Irene Hervey
n 1815, after Napoleon’s conquest has subsided to the mere rule of a small exiled territory known as Elba, France is now under the reign of King Louis XVIII. Trouble brews as Napoleon’s loyal conspirators plot an uprising. First mate Edmond Dantes (Robert Donat) arrives back in Marseilles with a secret letter from deceased Captain Leclere (William Farnum), to be delivered to a mysterious man purportedly associated with Napoleon’s colluders. Shipmate Danglars (Raymond Walburn) eavesdrops on Leclere’s final mission and sets up the arrest of Dantes as the deliverer of treasonous documentation. Aided by the king’s magistrate De Villefort Jr. (Louis Calhern), whose father (Lawrence Grant) is also a Napoleon sympathizer, Dantes is quickly apprehended. Immoral Inspector Fernand Mondego (Sidney Blackmer) is in love with Mercedes (Elissa Landi), Dantes’ fiancée, and so makes certain the poor seaman is imprisoned at the appalling Chateau d’If indefinitely, without trial or counsel.
As the king readies himself for the return of Napoleon, Dantes is proclaimed dead, as De Villefort Jr. has his name removed from the d’If’s log, replaced only with the number 27. As the years pass, Napoleon is once again defeated, forever entombing Dantes in the clutches of a forgotten dungeon. On her deathbed, Mercedes’ mother Madame De Rosas (Georgia Caine) insists that her daughter marry Fernand, to which she reluctantly agrees. On his eighth year of captivity, Edmond discovers the Abbe Faria (O.P. Heggie), a 68 year-old man who has burrowed through 30 feet of solid rock for six years to enter Dantes’ cell. Faria teaches the young sailor a magnitude of information – most importantly patience – so that he can become not an unforgiving horseman of the apocalypse but an avenging angel of God.
After a daring escape, Dantes journeys to the uninhabited island of Monte Cristo, where he retrieves a massive fortune carefully hidden by Faria, which he uses to embark on his quest for justice. Aided by Italian smugglers and faithful allies Jacopo (Luis Alberni) and Ali (Clarence Muse), who help plot counterblows that lead him to Rome, Paris, and finally back to the city of Marseilles, he designs the much-deserved comeuppance of Mondego, Danglars, and De Villefort. Deviously, his plans involve learning about his enemies to the point that he can use their families and vices to coerce their downfalls.
The tale of the Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most powerful, immortal stories of revenge and retribution, survival and perseverance ever told; here, it is presented largely faithful to the source material and with a similar sense of adventure, tragedy, endurance, and undying love. The themes and events are mostly present (minus forgiveness and the strong notion of vengeance going too far), unavoidably curtailing many of the details from the novel (as well as excising some characters) but retaining the potency. It moves at a rather speedy pace, struggling to include as many plot points as possible within the course of two hours.
Unfortunately, many of the finer degrees of avengement aren’t translated to the screen with the finesse or components necessary to create cinematic splendor. A setup for draining Baron Danglars of his wealth is missing suspense, a grand scale ball scene designed to expose the treacherous activities of Mondego appears irrelevantly Hamletesque, and a courtroom trial lacks nail-biting pacing. The complexities of driving opponents to ruin and suicide are drawn out, occasionally feeling composed for the sake of mere inclusion (save for the duel with Mercedes’ son Albert, which possesses the right level of enthusiasm prior to the actual shootout). Fortunately, the lengthiest moments are given to the splendidly romantic exchanges and poetic selections of dialogue between Mercedes and the Count, which are triumphantly effective, despite a drastic Hollywood alteration of the conclusion.
– Mike Massie