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King Louis XI is a wise and old king and Frollo is the Chief Justice. Frollo gazes on the gypsy girl, Esmeralda, in the church during Fool's Day and sends Quasimoto to catch her. Quasimoto, with the girl, is captured by Phoebus, Captain of the Guards, who frees the girl. The courts sentence Quasimoto to be flogged, and the only one who will give him water while he is tied in the square is Esmeralda. Later, at a party of nobles, Esmeralda again meets both Frollo, who is bewitched by her, and Phoebus. When Phoebus is stabbed to death, Esmeralda is accused of the murder, convicted by the court and sentenced to hang. Clopin, King of the Beggars, Gringoire the Husband of Esmeralda, and Quasimoto, the bellringer, all try different ways to save her from the gallows. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This was my favorite movie as a kid, from the first time I saw it on TV in the third grade. The look and the atmosphere of it have lodged ineradicably in a corner of my mind ever since, and the rescue of Esmeralda from the gibbet was and probably still is my favorite scene in a Hollywood movie. I never got to see the movie theatrically until a few years ago, when Disney hosted a showing as an excuse to preview clips of its animated version (which is based on this movie more than on the novel). The movie probably played as strongly then as it had fifty years earlier, and I have no doubt it will play the same in another fifty years. Seeing it with an audience made me realize for the first time that it is Sir Cedric Hardwicke's movie, rather than Laughton's. He dominates the story, and commands the screen whenever he appears. Since the Hays Office prohibited showing a lubricious priest, the writers did something clever: they changed the character into Javert from Hugo's "Les Miserables," here promoted to chief prosecutor, and a hypocritically high-minded celibate: as Esmeralda puts it, he seems like a priest without being one. Hardwicke's performance is superbly subtle, and his character must be one of the most intimately despicable movie villains of all time. Laughton is terrific. too; his cadences on lines like "She gave me a drink of water" are classic. (When Mandy Patinkin played the part, he himself admitted that he was simply replaying Laughton's score and hoping he'd be able to hit all the notes.) As for Maureen O'Hara, if I came across a gypsy dancer like her I'd be moved to swing into the square and rescue her myself. And how can anyone not like Thomas Mitchell's beggar king? The only substantial fault in the playing, I think, is Harry Davenport's characterization of Louis XI, which is funny but more broadly written and played than what surrounds it.
Strangely, although this is more a horror film than the other versions of the novel and contains many frightening scenes, I never thought of it as belonging to that genre and I still don't. It's much more than that. I knew someone who called it Hollywood's finest hour; he can't have been far wrong.
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