Seldom has a literary work inspired so many adaptions whether in film, television or theater. Written in 1844-45 by Alexandre Dumas (to whom we owe other classics like The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask), the Count of Monte Cristo has been seen in more than thirty versions (silent, black and white and color) shown on both the large and small screen since 1908. The first version was onstage, thanks to Dumas himself, in 1883.
It seems that since the dawn of cinema, each decade needed its share of romantic revenge. Curiously, this history seems universal since the phenomenon, far from being the prerogative of the French, extends from the USA to Spain, Italy, Germany and Great Britain as well as Russia, Venezuela and Mexico! No doubt that Alexandre Dumas would be turn over in his grave, as certain variations certainly deserve to remain in oubliettes.
The first film versions, like Pouctal's 1917 version, probably ended up on the dusty shelves of some obscure cinema or disappeared forever. Nonetheless, The Son of Monte Cristo (1940) with Louis Hayward remains, as does the 1942 version with Pierre Richard Wilm, a young star of the era. It wasn't until 1955 that the first memorable version with an impetuous Jean Marais in the title role appeared. In 1961, Louis Jourdan wears the counts costume with Yvonne Furneaux (Mercedès), Pierre Mondy (Caderousse) and Bernard Dhéran (Villefort) at his side under the direction of Claude Autant Lara.
In 1975, it's Richard Chamberlain who takes on the role. The actor also attacks others works by Alexandre Dumas, like The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask, for a series of films and made for TV movies that were honest, respectful and elegant productions. The Count of Monte Cristo with Chamberlain will surely remain in spirit throughout the world, in particular thanks to a distribution of weight including Tony Curtis (Fernand Mondego), Louis Jourdan (De Villefort) and Donald Pleasence (Danglars).
In 1999, the French re-appropriated the story for a TV miniseries where Gerard Depardieu plays Edmond Dantès. Ornella Muti (Mercedès), Jean Rochefort (Fernand Mondego) and Pierre Arditi (Villefort) join him in this long and meticulous adaptation that's nearly four hours long. The series turns out to be rather captivating but allows some freedoms with the original, one of which is an atrociously ridiculous ending that betrays the spirit of the story.
The Count of Monte Cristo will probably continue to haunt the screens for a long time, as the American film of Kevin Reynolds starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce debuts in the 21st century with fanfare.
To be continued…