The Count Of Monte Cristo

Director: David Greene   
Richard Chamberlain, Tony Curtis, Trevor Howard

With currently over 500 movies reviews on this web site, I think it is safe to say that for over a decade I have put a lot of work into The Unknown Movies. Even with all those reviews I have done, it is still a challenge each and every time I decide to write another review. I have to find movies that would be appropriate to review, research them to find information that may help my subsequent writing or give readers some interesting trivia. It's a lot of hard work. With that in mind, you might think that sometimes I look back on the days in my past before I started this web site, when I didn't have all this extra work. But when I look at the years before starting this web site, I find that I was sort of doing work for this web site - preparing work, to be exact. All the movies I watched as a youngster warmed me up to the work I now do on my web site. Even when I was young, I was judging movies and thinking about how I would review them in print. Plus, I was expanding my knowledge on certain kinds of movies, so that I would be an expert on these certain kinds of movies when I was much older. For example, I watched dozens of movies from Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus growing up, and all that helped me to become an expert on The Cannon Group as an adult. Also when I was growing up, I did a lot of preparation for the future writing of reviews. In school, I signed up for a number of English and writing classes. In fact, years later, when I graduated from university, I graduated with an English degree. I thought that was great, even though the job market didn't always think so.

While I did plenty of stuff to prepare for starting and maintaining this web site, I have to admit that there are a few areas I should have better experienced, areas that with some focus on might very well have resulted in making an even better web site. In a past review, I admitted that until I reached my adult years, I was largely ignorant of movies that would be considered "classic" (in other words, movies made before 1960.) But with cable and DVD rentals, I have slowly been building my knowledge in this area. There is, however, another area that I kind of regret not focusing on more when I was younger, an area that may have helped me become a better writer. That area is classic literature. During the years before I became an adult, I read very little classic literature. I mentioned in an earlier review that I read King Solomon's Mines as a child and loved it, though it didn't push me to seek out more classic literature. I did read an abridged Robinson Crusoe, and I also read several Sherlock Holmes stories that also had been abridged for children. They were entertaining, though I remember as a child also reading a Peanuts cartoon strip where Charlie Brown said that such children's abridgements were like "drinking diluted root beer," so I knew I was missing out on the entire experience. When I went to university, things did improve somewhat. My classes got me reading, among other things, Shakespeare, The Scarlet Letter, The Canterbury Tales, and Moby Dick (that last book being one of the most agonizing pieces of literature I have ever read. The central story was interesting, but every other chapter brought the narrative to a stop so the narrator could tell us every boring bit about the subject of whaling you could think of.)

But after university, I stopped reading classic literature. So today, you can safely call me someone who is not an expert on classic literature. While I may be able to get away with this fact when it comes to writing about many of the kinds of movies I review, I guess there is the question of how I can review a movie based on a piece of classic literature when I don't have that much experience with classic literature. Well, I know I'm not the only person out there with this inexperience, so I think these particular people will have a better idea when reading the review if they will like the movie or not. But there is also the question as to why I would review the movie The Count Of Monte Cristo, based on a classic novel, when I have shown little interest in classic literature. There are several reasons. I actually saw the 2002 movie version (I honestly don't remember why I went to see it - maybe I had a movie coupon that was about to expire) and I enjoyed it, so there was the possibility I could relive my enjoyment again. The second reason was the cast. Besides Richard Chamberlain, Tony Curtis, and Trevor Howard being in the cast, I learned there were roles for other notable actors like Louis Jourdan and Donald Pleasence. The third reason was that I had the possibility of losing very little with an investment in this movie. See, this movie's copyright, for some reason, was not renewed several years back, so it's now in the public domain. I found it on a DVD paired with the Alain Delon Zorro movie at a price of just over one dollar.

It probably should come as no surprise that I have never read anything by Alexandre Dumas, including the novel that this movie is based on. With that fact in mind, and being too lazy to read every little bit of the extensive Wikipedia page that is devoted to the novel, I have to admit The Count Of Monte Cristothat I have little idea just how closely this particular movie version follows the novel. Though from the little I read at Wikipedia, and what I remember of the 2002 movie, the beginning of this particular film version does seem to follow the novel somewhat. In France of 1815, we meet returning sea voyager Edmond Dantes (Chamberlain), who is about to marry his sweetheart Mercedes (Kate Nelligan). However, Edmond's fellow sea voyagers Caderousse and Danglars (Pleasence), along with Mercedes' cousin Mondego (Curtis) frame him as a Napoleonic sympathizer. The chief prosecutor DeVillefort  (Jordan) knows he's innocent, but has his own reasons for seeing that Edmond is sentenced to life. In prison, Edmond meets fellow prisoner Abbe (Howard), and through Abbe's efforts during the long years that follow, Edmond escapes from prison fully prepared for revenge. If what follows does not represent the novel well, that does not concern me. I'm just interested in a movie's story being done well in whatever way it decides to proceed. And there are some well done things in this movie. I thought most of the performances were good, for one thing. Among the supporting cast, Howard is the most memorable. I believed his character, being both well educated and one who had numbed by being in prison for many years. Admittedly, his death scene is unintentionally funny, but I blame this scene on the direction.

As for the others in the supporting cast, Pleasance may not be as memorable as Howard, but he's still solid. The only one among the supporting cast that I thought didn't fit was Curtis. I happened to like Tony Curtis as an actor - he had a great sarcastic sense of humor that has played well in other movies. But seeing this boy from the Bronx stuffed in a costume and trying to portray a Spaniard was pretty embarrassing to behold; at least his scenes put together only last for a few minutes of the movie. That leaves Chamberlain to talk about, whose in almost every scene of the movie. Chamberlain has to switch several times the kind of man he's playing - he starts as a young unscarred man, then one who is numbed by years of imprisonment, and after that to a middle-aged gentleman hell-bent on revenge. He is convincing in whatever the scene requires him to be, which would normally be a big challenge to an actor, but probably proved to be a bigger challenge than you might think. The original novel is reportedly a complex one, with many characters and subplots, and it seems that the quest to shave it down to fit a two-hour timeslot with commercials (this was intended as a made-for-TV movie, at least in North America) made some parts of the screenplay suffer as a result. Take the opening part of the movie, for example. Edmund is arrested after we have reached the nine minute mark of the movie, and he arrives at prison approximately seven minutes later. As you can imagine, this gives us little time to learn about the characters and their various motivations.

This lack of time to properly tell details is not just confined to the beginning. We never learn, for example, how after Edmond has escaped from prison and is back in France, just how he properly prepared his disguise and credentials to play the title figure. It's never explained how Pleasance's character, seen as part of a ship's crew at the beginning of the movie, somehow manages to have raised his status to be branded a Baron years later. There is a mystery for the longest time about the identity around a woman that is seen with Edmond in one scene, then not seen again until near the end of the movie. (Although her identity is revealed, it's not revealed how Edmond found her and learned about her.) Observing questions such as these throughout the movie, I sometimes got the feeling I was watching a movie version of a Classic Comics adaptation of the novel. And remembering the often unspectacular art of those comics, the production values of this movie seemed to be imitating that sparse look. Although the movie never looks seriously cheap and was in fact shot in various locations in Europe, you'll still get the feeling that the producers were being held back somewhat. You might be getting the idea at this point that I am giving this movie a negative review. But I said there were some good things here. Besides what I mentioned earlier, the movie is never boring, even though its telling may be garbled at times. Plus, the quest for revenge is something I think all of us can relate to, and you'll be interested in just how Edmond will plan and execute his revenge against his many challenges. Though the movie may indeed slip up in key areas at times, it without doubt knows how to get its audience to side with someone wanting revenge, then having the same person delivering the revenge in a way that will give its audience some satisfaction. Call this a marginal recommendation; if you're desperate and can't find the superior 2002 version, this will do under the circumstances.

Check for availability on Amazon (Blu-Ray/DVD combo)
Check for availability on Amazon (Download)
Check for availability on Amazon of original novel

See also: Framed, Lone Hero, Outlaw Force