The Count Counts
Mr. Magoo's The Count of Monte Cristo
A Book Review by Ronald Milligan
There is nothing like the strains of a harpsichord to signal the start of a night of great culture and refinement. Those civilized strains welcome the opening credits to The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. The level of high-brow elegance is especially so when the episode for the evening’s viewing is one of the great adventure stories of literature: Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo) by Alexandre Dumas. This version was tastefully adapted for this television episode by Walter Black.
Dumas first published this story in serialized form between 1844 and 1846, which was a common format at that time. This epic adventure is one of the most popular works of Dumas, along with his The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After (the sequel to The Three Musketeers). His novels have been translated into many languages, and he is one of the most widely read French authors, thanks to his flair for adventure, and to his heroic and charismatic characters.
The Count of Monte Cristo takes place in France and on several islands in the Mediterranean during the events of 1815–1839 that surround the Bourbon Restoration and the reign of Louis-Philippe. The story begins just before the Hundred Days period when Napoleon returned to power after his exile. This historical setting is fundamental to the wide and compelling story arc that consists of hope, justice, vengeance, mercy, and forgiveness. These themes are wonderfully covered in our animated teleplay, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.
The plot centers on a man who is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes from the prison-island, acquires a fortune, and sets about exacting revenge on those scoundrels responsible for his imprisonment. His plans have devastating consequences for both the innocent and the guilty. The story superbly illustrates how, when vengeance is used as the means to exact justice, the innocent often suffer as well as the guilty.
The main character is Edmond Dantès, a young merchant sailor played to perfection here by Quincy Magoo. As the story develops, Edmond assumes the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo as a means to initially carry out his revenge; but later he is fully transformed into the gracious figure of the Count. This change occurs not so much to abandon the young Edmond, but for him to shed the burden of vengeance that had consumed him as a means of his initial survival.
There is a wide range of ways to approach absorbing a great work such as The Count of Monte Cristo. The honest and direct way is to read the original unabridged novel by Dumas in the native (and sometimes arcane) French language. This fictional work is contained in two volumes, totaling roughly 1,600 pages.
This laborious approach is the one that my Dear Wife embarked on about six months ago. At the other end of the spectrum is our modest animated production, presented to the television-viewing audience in a swiftly moving 25 minutes. Between those two extremes, there are countless translated and abridged versions of this classic tale that one can enjoy in a number of media formats: abridged novels, musicals, plays, operas, motion pictures, television specials, even comic books!
One of the things I like most about The Famous Adventures productions is the consistency of the presentation: the storyline remains generally faithful to the original work. The action of the animated product does not ruin the viewing pleasure of these more dramatic and robust offerings available to any viewer who decides to delve deeper into the subject matter.
The Famous Adventures characterization of Dumas’s novel hits all the critical points of the story arc while also retaining the spirit of the original story. This goal is achieved in the space of an ultra-compressed timeline. And this achievement is impressive, given the complexity of the plot and the intertwined character relationships. Herein, however, lies the one shortcoming of this rendering of The Count of Monte Cristo – our animated teleplay is an express ride through an otherwise elaborate backdrop. We miss more than a few secondary characters, locales and intriguing episodes. And, as Dear Wife would tell me, a lot of dialogue!
In reality, the novels of Dumas have enough subplots and intriguing characters to create dozens of independent stories. Dear Wife located a flow chart of the interlocking and somewhat improbable plot connections and contrivances. She was amazed at the size of the maze! She then decided to enjoy the reading of this novel for its inherent literary pleasure, and forego trying to keep scrupulous track of the convoluted plot line of episodic actions.
One might argue that the web of plot intricacies (at which Dumas excelled) is the by-product of the serialized publication format of that era which emphasized an episodic approach. The creative genius of Dumas certainly had no problem with creating an ever-expansive literary world and then piloting the reader through that meticulous landscape and pointing out all the intricate, finer details.
Whatever the driving force behind the literary configuration of The Count, this format was tailor-made for endless variations on the theme. Many Hollywood studios would later mine this Mother Lode of storytelling to create an entire Musketeer movie franchise, not to mention the many formulations for The Count of Monte Cristo.
The performance of Edmond Dantès/The Count is played expertly by Quincy Magoo, who is voiced of course by Jim Backus. This particular installment of The Famous Adventures illustrates the fine range of character development portrayed by Magoo as he voyages through the many events and plans that forge his evolving character.
The costume design is fantastic. There are historical allusions, with very telling details, such as a written invitation to enjoy an intimate concert with Chopin. The animation and musical score are well suited to this episode and are superbly matched with Jim Backus’s voice acting. All in all, this is a very entertaining and worthy introduction to this masterpiece by Dumas.
In the end, The Count realizes that over the course of time — “Vengeance has lost its savor.” The future, that is where happiness will be obtained, not in avenging the past.
The lesson of Dumas is, at last, realized:
All human wisdom is contained in these two words —
“Wait and Hope”.