Thursday, August 16, 2018

Richard Chamberlain as The Count of Monte-Cristo

Chamberlain as Edmond Dantes.
Between his TV heartthrob status as Dr. Kildare and his reign as "King of the Miniseries," Richard Chamberlain sought to expand his acting versatility. He appeared in Shakespeare plays, worked with unconventional director Ken Russell, and played a different sort of Prince Charming in a musical version of Cinderella. He also starred in four movies based on the works of Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Count of Monte-Cristo.

The last of that quartet was produced for British television and broadcast in the U.S. by NBC in 1975. Chamberlain plays newly promoted Captain Edmond Dantes, whose success in business and love incurs the jealousy of three shipmates. They frame him as one of Napoleon's spies by forging a letter. It's a weak charge, but the prosecutor has a secret he must hide at all costs: his father is a Napoleon loyalist and traitor. So, the prosecutor banishes Edmond to an island prison, where he is forgotten.

Yes, that's Trevor Howard.
After ten years of loneliness, Edmond becomes acquainted with the Abbe Faria (Trevor Howard), a fellow prisoner who has been digging a tunnel to freedom. The Abbe becomes a father figure to Edmond, teaching him about the arts and sharing a map to an alleged long-lost treasure on the island of Monte-Cristo. The Abbe also helps Edmond deduce the identities of the four men responsible for ruining his life.

Although the Abbe dies, Edmond manages to escape from his castle of captivity. His heart, though, is filled with vengeance and he dedicates his life to destroying each of the men that wronged him.

Dumas was a masterful storyteller and The Count of Monte-Cristo is an absorbing tale from start to finish. Chamberlain makes an effective transformation from a naive young man to a bitter, angry one who has aged well beyond his years. His best scenes are those with Trevor Howard as the Abbe in the prison. It was no surprise to learn that Chamberlain and Howard each earned Emmy nominations for their performances.

Nelligan pleads for her son's life.
Louis Jourdan, Kate Nelligan, and Donald Pleasance are convincing in supporting roles. The same can't be said for Tony Curtis, who walks through his villainous part with little conviction. His climatic sword fight with Chamberlain is a snooze thanks to a very obvious body double (though Richard seems to be doing his own dueling). Tyrone Power's daughter Taryn makes her English-language debut in a small part. I remember her best from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, which was released two years later.

Sidney Carroll, who co-wrote The Hustler back in 1961, does an admirable job of condensing Dumas' packed plot into a 103-minute movie. A couple of major subplots are jettisoned, but the end results are the same and the streamlined movie undoubtedly moves at a quicker pace. My only beef is that I wanted to know the fate of the likable smugglers who pulled a weary Dantes from the sea after his prison escape.

Three years after The Count of Monte-Cristo, Chamberlain made Centennial, the first of three blockbuster miniseries that would secure his fame in TV history. He followed it with Shogun in 1980 and The Thorn Birds in 1983.


  1. Richard Chamberlain seemed to own the mini-series format back in the early '80s, didn't he? He had a great run starting with Kildare and is apparently still working. Interesting (and admirable) that he had the chops to play absolutely classic heroes (as in Monte Cristo) and also unsympathetic, sometimes twisted types (Petulia, Towering Inferno). I confess to a mad crush on him as Dr. Kildare waaay back in the day, Rick.

  2. I was enthralled by The Count of Monte Cristo when it aired. This post certainly brought back a lot of memories. Now I want to watch Centennial!

  3. Watched Count of Monte Cristo so many times.. and Richard Chamberlain’s version is the best so far.. love him since I was 12 and now at 48, love him still....

  4. Oh yeah, it sounds like Richard Chamberlain and Trevor Howard were rightly nominated for Emmys, judging by your description. (I did NOT recognize Howard in the image you posted. Good makeup artist.)

  5. “The Count of Monte-Cristo” is such a good story! My favorite scenes in the film are between Richard Chamberlain and Trevor Howard in their horrendous prison. Like you, I would like to have known the fate of the smugglers who rescued Edmond.

  6. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books, and is one of the all-time great plots of literature. It's difficult to capture the agonizing betrayal and years of prison so well written about in a movie, but this was an excellent version. Chamberlain is an excellent actor of the screen and the stage, and as you point out Rick, he does a great job here with a (mostly) excellent supporting cast. The island Fortress where Dantes was imprisoned in the novel, the Chateau d'If, sits in the Mediterranean waters just outside Marseille where I was born.