THE 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables must have set a record for translations into film. Between 1897 and this year there were more than 70 in all.
I recently watched the 1935 Hollywood version, starring Frederic March and Charles Laughton. on cable TV, and it inspired me to do a web search for more background information.
Set in early 19th century France, Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean, a strong and potentially violent peasant who served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving relatives.
HE DECIDES to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly Bishop inspires him, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert.
Valjean and characters he becomes entangled with get swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade.
A musical adaptation was originally conceived and produced in France in 1980, before its English language version opened in London, England, in 1985. The production overcame bad notices through word of mouth, and it has turned out to be a global sensation.
OF THE MANY good songs in the musical I am partial to Master of the House, sung by the innkeeper. It includes these lyrics:
Master of the house, doling out the charm
Ready with a handshake and an open palm
Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir
Customers appreciate a bon-viveur
Glad to do a friend a favor
Doesn’t cost me to be nice
But nothing gets you nothing
Everything has got a little price!
AMONG other musicals i’ve recently enjoyed via cable TV was the Hollywood version of the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein great hit, South Pacific. I recall a touring version that came to Dallas. but without the original stars, Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, the opera singer.
The love scenes between characters Lieut. Joe Cable and Liat, a Polynesian, were considered shocking by the still conservative standards of the late 1950s.
His song, You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, was subject to widespread criticism, judged by some to be too controversial or downright inappropriate for the stage.
THE LYRICS say racism is not born in you but:
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear . . .
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade. . .
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
Rodgers and Hammerstein were pressured to eliminate this song, and they risked the entire South Pacific venture in light of a Georgia legislative challenge to its decency or supposed Communist agenda. The song stayed in.
The 1958 film of South Pacific that I recently saw starred Rossano Brazzi as the French planter, Emile de Becque. Unlike Ezio Pinza, he had his singing voice dubbed in. But Mitzi Gaynor as Ensign Nelie Forbush did her own singing.
France Nuyen. who played Liat. was able to converse in her native language (French) with Brazzi, who spoke French as well as his native Italian.
Most Europeans, it seems, are at least bilingual. So far that can’t be said of most Americans.