While this may have been a made for television production of the mid seventies that didn’t deter the producers from landing a first rate cast including Richard Chamberlain in the lead role.
This adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel begins with a ship coming into port where young Chamberlain dashes into the arms of his waiting fiance Kate Nelligan. Much to the chagrin of one time fifties heart throb Tony Curtis. Chamberlain finds himself an innocent bystander to political intrigue and Napoleonic plots. Curtis wants Nelligan for his own, Donald Pleasence is just behaving like Donald Pleasence and Louis Jordan seeks to hide his father’s allegiance to the French ruler. In order to do so, they incriminate young Chamberlain in a plot to overthrow the government. On the eve of his wedding he quickly finds himself condemned to an island prison.
The years pass and Chamberlain slowly begins to lose his sanity while his clothes turn to rags and his hair and beard become unruly. He is fortunate enough to be befriended by Trevor Howard who tunnels from another cell into Chamberlain’s. An aging professor, he tutors Chamberlain as they tunnel their way to freedom. Howard won’t live long enough to see his freedom but he gives Chamberlain a way out combined with knowledge and the whereabouts of a treasure worth a fortune.
Chamberlain’s story continues years later when he returns to his homeland a wealthy man under the assumed identity of the film’s title. He discovers that his old enemies have all prospered. Curtis a decorated General who has take Nelligan for his wife, Pleasence a rich banker and Jordan an influential member of the courts. With money and a noble prestige, the Count of Monte-Cristo will make his way back into high society and plot his revenge by ruining the reputations of his sworn enemies.
Each one of his antagonists believe that Chamberlain is a long forgotten piece of their past and don’t see the successful Count with the aged face as the same young spirited sailor from all those years ago. The only character that does is of course Kate Nelligan and it is she who will come to beg him to forget the past and know that her life and dreams were in tatters upon his arrest and subsequent death as was told to her.
Chamberlain’s Count is a bitter man who will fulfill his revenge by destroying the men who cheated him out of his life and love. It proves to be a rather hollow victory as he will discover in the end.
Richard Chamberlain would end up being the go to actor when it came to big scale TV productions once the seventies came to an end and the eighties kicked off with Shogun, Centennial and The Thorn Birds all over network television. Though this isn’t a miniseries it does fit right in with where his career was headed at the time.
The film also allows Tony Curtis to once again pick up the sword as he had done as the hero in many of his apprenticing roles in the early fifties and in big scale productions like The Vikings in 1958. I’ve always been a fan of Tony’s but do realize he might be a tad old for the role here in the earlier scenes.
It’s Kate Nelligan who seemed to fit so perfectly in these historical sagas and Victorian era tales like the 1979 version of Stoker’s Dracula where she took the lead female role opposite Frank Langella’s romantic Dracula. Miss Nelligan was actually born in London, Ontario. About an hour from where I call home. Another Canadian making good on the big screen.
Donald Pleasence and Louis Jordan are always a credit to any production and as far as Donald is concerned, it’s always funny to watch him handle props and avert one’s viewing attentions to him. Scene stealer extraordinaire.
There are numerous versions of the Dumas story to check out and each one has it’s merits. For me this one is the trio of actors cast as Chamberlain’s enemies. I pretty much go out of my way to catch a film should I know they make an appearance. Trevor Howard just adds a little extra icing to the cake.