ⓘ The Count of Monte Cristo, 1934 film. The Count of Monte Cristo is a 1934 American adventure film directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Robert Donat and Eliss ..

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934 film)

ⓘ The Count of Monte Cristo (1934 film)

The Count of Monte Cristo is a 1934 American adventure film directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Robert Donat and Elissa Landi. Based on the 1844 novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, the story concerns a man who is unjustly imprisoned for 20 years for innocently delivering a letter entrusted to him. When he finally escapes, he seeks revenge against the greedy men who conspired to put him in prison.

This is the first sound film adaptation of Dumas novel - five silent films preceded it.


1. Plot

In 1815, a French merchant ship stops at the island of Elba. A letter from the exiled Napoleon is given to the ships captain to deliver to a man in Marseille. Before he dies of a sickness, the captain entrusts the task to his first officer, Edmond Dantes Donat. However, the city magistrate, Raymond de Villefort, Jr. Calhern, is tipped off by an informer, the second officer, Danglars Raymond Walburn, and has both men arrested after the exchange.

Dantes friend Fernand Mondego Sidney Blackmer accompanies him to the jail. However, he, Danglars, and de Villefort all stand to gain from keeping Dantes imprisoned: Mondego is in love with Dantes fiancee, Mercedes Landi; Danglars wants to be promoted captain in Dantes place; and the man who accepted the letter turns out to be de Villeforts father Lawrence Grant. De Villefort consigns Dantes without trial to a notorious prison, the Chateau dIf, on the false testimony of Danglars.

When Napoleon returns to France, giving Dantes friends hope for his release, de Villefort signs a false statement that he was killed trying to escape, which Mondego shows to Mercedes. Deceived, she gives in to her mothers deathbed wish and marries Mondego.

Eight years of solitary confinement follow for Dantes. Then one day, the aged Abbe Faria O. P. Heggie, a fellow prisoner, breaks into his cell through a tunnel he has been digging. The two join forces; Faria calculates it will take five more years to finish. In the meantime, he starts educating Dantes.

However, as they near their goal, a cave-in fatally injures the old man. Before he dies, he bequeaths a vast hidden treasure to his protege Farias enemies had tortured and imprisoned him in an unsuccessful attempt to extract its location. The body is sewn into a shroud, but while the undertaker is away, Dantes substitutes himself for the corpse undetected. He is cast into the sea. He frees himself and is picked up by a smuggling ship.

Dantes later follows Farias directions and finds the treasure on the uninhabited island of Monte Cristo. With a fortune at his command, he sets in motion his plans for revenge. To begin, he arranges to have Albert Mercedes and Mondegos son kidnapped and held for ransom. Dantes "rescues" the younger man in order to gain entry into Paris society, using his purchased title of Count of Monte Cristo.

First to be brought to justice is Mondego. While the French ambassador to Albania, Mondego gained renown for his bravery in an unsuccessful defense of Ali Pasha. Dantes arranges a ball to "honor" his enemy, then arranges to have him exposed publicly as the one who betrayed Ali Pasha to his death at the hands of the Turks. Unaware of the counts role in his disgrace, Mondego goes to him for advice. Dantes reveals his identity and they engage in a duel; Dantes wins, but spares Mondego, who returns home and commits suicide.

Next is Danglars, now the most influential banker in Paris. Dantes uses his services to buy and sell shares, sharing tips he receives from his informants. When these turn out to be infallibly profitable, Danglars bribes a man to send him copies of messages to Dantes. Greed leads him to invest all of his money on the next report, just as Dantes had planned. When the tip proves to be false, Danglars is bankrupted. Dantes reveals his true identity to Danglars, who is left penniless and insane.

However, there are unexpected complications that threaten Dantes carefully conceived plans. Albert Mondego learns of his involvement in his fathers downfall and challenges him to a duel. Mercedes, who had recognized her former lover upon their first meeting, begs him not to kill her son. He agrees. Albert deliberately changes his aim because his mother has told him who Monte Cristo really is, and the duel ends without injury.

De Villefort has risen to the high office of State Attorney. Dantes sends him information about his true identity and activities, which leads to his arrest and trial. At first, Dantes refuses to testify, in order to shield de Villeforts daughter Valentine Irene Hervey, who is in love with Albert. However, when she learns of it, she urges him to defend himself. Dantes does so, providing evidence of de Villeforts longstanding corruption.

At last, with all of his enemies destroyed, Dantes is reunited with Mercedes.


2. Production

This was the third film producer Edward Small made for United Artists. Fredric March was the original choice for the title role. Eventually Robert Donat was cast under an international star loan agreement negotiated by Joseph Schenck of United Artists.

Director Rowland V. Lee and playwright Dan Totheroh had written a treatment based on the novel. Totheroh had to go to New York so Edward Small hired Philip Dunne, then an emerging screenwriter, to compose the dialogue. According to Dunne there were only seven words of Dumas in the final dialogue: "the world is mine!" spoken by Edmund Dantes when he gets his treasure, and "one, two, three" when he disposes of his enemies.

Dunne added, "I told the director, Rowland Lee, Id never read the novel. He said hed act it out for me and he did such a good job Ive never read it. In fact, I used all his dialogue, I just wrote it down. But I got my first credit."

Filming started in May 1934.


3. Differences from the novel

The film changes some major details of the story. Prominent characters from the novel such as Bertuccio, Caderousse, Franz DEpinay, Andrea Cavalcanti, Louise d’Armilly, Eugenie Danglars, Maximilian Morrel, Edouard de Villefort and Heloise de Villefort are all omitted. Haydees role is reduced to two brief appearances, and her romantic involvement with Monte Cristo is not referred to.

In the novel, Dantes and Mercedes did not rekindle their relationship. Danglars and Fernand betrayed Dantes anonymously via a letter rather than in person, and Dantes only discovered their betrayal once in prison. Mercedes was the daughter of a fisherman, not from a wealthy family as suggested in the film, and there was no indication that her mother was opposed to the Dantes marriage. Monte Cristo and Fernand did not engage in a sword fight. Monte Cristo was not put on trial, as he is in the movies finale. It was Villefort rather than Danglars who went insane.


4. Reception, sequels and remakes

The film was very popular - Philip Dunne said it "provided Eddie Small with a fortune almost as great as the Treasure of Spada". A sequel, The Son of Monte Cristo, was announced almost immediately, but took several years to be made. In the 2006 political thriller film V for Vendetta, an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, the titular anarchist refers to The Count of Monte Cristo as his favourite film.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

  • 2001: AFIs 100 Years.100 Thrills – Nominated
  • Edmond Dantes – Nominated Hero
  • 2003: AFIs 100 Years.100 Heroes & Villains

The film had two sequels, The Son of Monte Cristo 1940 and The Return of Monte Cristo 1946. The Count of Monte Cristo was named one of the top ten films of 1934 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Subsequent adaptations of the novel were made in 1943, 1954, 1961, 1975, and 2002.