Today is Sunday, so it’s time for another 100 New Code Films article! In all but four weeks this year, I am going to watch and review four new American Breen Era (1934-1954) movies which I have never seen before. The purpose of this series is to help me expand my knowledge of the Code years by watching as many Code films as possible, using this series this year. I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the Breen Era, its films, its actors, and its filmmakers through this series. My goal is to eventually watch every Code film ever made!
Today’s topic is The Count of Monte Cristo from 1934. I signed up for the Robert Donat Blogathon a few months ago when I heard about it. I decided that that was the perfect opportunity to watch and review the film for which Mr. Donat won Best Actor, Goodbye, Mr. Chips from 1939. However, I forgot about this commitment and watched this movie in early June. Thus, I decided to review the film early for this blogathon and write about a different movie during the actual blogathon’s time. I watched The Count of Monte Cristo, Robert Donat’s first American film, last night on ok.ru.
When his captain dies at sea, the young first mate takes over a ship in 1815 France and agrees to convey a letter for the former captain, not knowing that it contains information about Napoleon’s plans to overthrow the king. He is happily reunited with his beloved, whose mother would much rather she marry her influential suitor. However, she is determined to wed her young sailor. When the king’s spies discover that he has the letter, the young lady’s other suitor conspires with two other men to incriminate him for treason. He is put in prison, legally declared dead, and forgotten for years. When he eventually escapes, he is determined to use his newly-acquired fortune to bring those who did him wrong to justice.
This movie stars Robert Donat, Elissa Landi, and Louis Calhern. Suporting actors include Sidney Blackmer, Raymond Walburn, O. P. Heggie, Irene Hervey, and Georgia Caine.
This movie was directed by Rowland V. Lee. It was produced by Edward Small. The production company was Edward Small Productions as Reliance Productions; it was distributed by United Artists. The screenplay was written by Philip Dunne, Dan Totheroh, and Rowland V. Lee, based on the 1844 novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas. This film was named one of 1934’s Top Ten Films by the National Board of Review.
This is a good Code film. It is interesting to see such an early Breen Era film. This movie was released on September 7, 1934, just under two months after the PCA was formed. Thus, it was obviously made during the Pre-Code Era. However, the quality of this film is very Codish. The violence is minimal, the costumes are decent, and the principles of justice are very proper. It is fascinating to note how several early Code and even late Pre-Code films contain strong religious, particularly Catholic, elements. One often associates Catholic priests as strong supporting characters with the Breen Era, but this movie, like The World Moves On, the first Code film, and Manhattan Melodrama, a late pre-Code film, features strong Catholic elements. I think this can be attributed to two things, the growing power of the Catholic Legion of Decency in early 1934 and the appointment of Joseph I. Breen as head of the Studio Relations Committee (SRC), the PCA’s predecessor, around the same time. Even before the Code was law in Hollywood, some filmmakers were eager to please Catholic powers like the Legion of Decency and the increasingly powerful Mr. Breen. As a result, many early Code films like this, which were made before the PCA self-regulated every script, were made with Code-compliant principles. Thus, they were good Code film which required little cutting when the time came to apply for early PCA Seals of Approval. This film received Certificate No. 166, a very early Seal number indeed, and it certainly deserved it.
I highly recommend this film. It is an excellent take on this classic novel. Although it passes much time, this is a fast-paced, exciting, and intriguing film. The acting is excellent. Aside from Robert Donat’s excellent performance in the title role, which I will discuss further in the next section, all the actors create their characters with drama and conviction. Elissa Landi, an actress I have only seen in one other film, After the Thin Man (1936), is so lovely and sympathetic as the woman who loses her beloved right before their marriage. She effectively creates a change in her persona as she ages during the film, going from the sensitive girl to the mature wife and mother. Sidney Blackmer plays a rare villain as Count Mondego, the man who seems charming until we learn that he is plotting against his romantic rival. While he remains suave, his character becomes increasingly sinister as the film progresses. A fellow villain, De Villefort, is played by Louis Calhern, who like Mondego, effectively ages during the runtime. Raymond Walburn is unusually serious as the third villain in the story, Danglars, the greedy and dimwitted sailor who becomes a wealthy banker after selling out his crewmate. One of the most poignant characters is Abbe Faria (O. P. Heggie), the priest whom Edmond (Robert Donat) meets in prison. The impact which he has on Edmond is huge. The period costumes are lovely and very historically accurate. The other historical details are also very rich. The action is exciting but not too intense for those who don’t like battles and duels. This is a very charming adaption of this beloved novel. I highly recommend it.
For the Blogathon
This is my second entry in The Robert Donat Blogathon, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. This is the second film which I have seen with Robert Donat. After I reviewed Goodbye, Mr. Chips, two of my fellow bloggers recommended several other films he made to me. Although all these films sound fascinating, I must postpone their watching until August, since all of them were British films. This is not surprising, since Mr. Donat made very few American movies. The Count of Monte Cristo was his first American film, and it was the only movie he ever filmed in Hollywood, since his poor health prevented extensive traveling for this talented actor. Anyway, I am appreciate to see this, one of his rare American projects.
In both films I reviewed for this blogathon, Robert Donat makes a remarkable transformation. In this film, he starts as a very innocent, naïve, lighthearted sailor. In this stage, he is cleanshaven and youthful. Then, he becomes the desperate, despondent forgotten prison, at which point his hair becomes a mane and he grows a huge beard, which makes him almost unrecognizable. Eventually, he returns to civilization as the dashing, mature, wealthy Count de Monte Cristo. He is gray at the temples and wears a small mustache, which accompanies his dapper clothes and suave manner. Ultimately, his soul remains the same despite the trials which he endures. Robert Donat brings this character to life with so much finesse and charm, as well as some excellent fencing. He is really wonderful in this film!
This is our 500th article! Thank you to our wonderful readers!
Click here to join our monthlong celebration of nothing but American Breen Era (1934-1954) movies in honor of the Production Code Administration’s anniversary, #CleanMovieMonth2020!
Click here to join our upcoming blogathon about American Breen Era movies adapted from classic literature, the Code Classics Blogathon!
Click the above image to buy this movie on DVD at Amazon and support PEPS through the Amazon Affiliate program!
Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!