What is “Les Miserables”? A musical, right? Yes indeed. And it’s also at least six films, a radio play, a manga cartoon, a game and, in 1978, a made-for-TV movie featuring rather questionable wigs.
Originally, of course, it was Victor Hugo’s 1862 French historical novel of justice and restoration. The book that is, today, widely regarded as nothing less than one of the 19th century’s greatest novels. But back in 1862, notices were a little less favorable.
Le Monde‘s review included the phrase “unconquerable disgust.” Rough, but not the worst one. Flaubert described it as “infantile.” He went further, decreeing it would end Hugo’s career, like “the fall of a god.” Refusing to be outdone, Baudelaire summed up Hugo’s creation as “Repulsive and inept.”
The Catholic Church took that as its cue, and banned the book outright. Not a big problem for Hugo who, with a hit on his hands, had nothing but his royalty checks for comfort. Royalties that still roll in to his estate, and show no signs of stopping.
Here we see Les Miserables, ’70s style, starring Anthony Perkins and John Gielgud no less, plus a Valjean with a very gray beard. Hey, don’t knock it, the film, screened on CBS, was a big ratings success. It even beat Charlie’s Angels.