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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 29 December 1939 (USA)
1:53 | Trailer

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In 15th century France, a gypsy girl is framed for murder by the infatuated Chief Justice, and only the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame Cathedral can save her.



(screen play), (adaptation) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 2 Oscars. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Frollo (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
Alan Marshal ...
Walter Hampden ...
Madame de Lys
Fritz Leiber ...
Old Nobleman
Etienne Girardot ...
Helene Reynolds ...
Fleur de Lys (as Helene Whitney)
Queen of Beggars (as Mina Gombell)
Arthur Hohl ...


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 Quasimodo to catch her. Quasimodo, with the girl, is captured by Phoebus, Captain of the Guards, who frees the girl. The courts sentence Quasimodo 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, Esmeralda's husband; and Quasimodo, the bellringer, all try different ways to save her from the gallows. Written by Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


IMPACT! POWER! FIRE! PATHOS! DRAMA! (original print ad - all caps) See more »


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

29 December 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Victor Hugo's Immortal Classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$1,800,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


(Turner library print) (copyright length)

Sound Mix:

(RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


This was RKO's last release for 1939 (and second costliest in its history, next to Gunga Din (1939)). Although it premiered about the same time as Gone with the Wind (1939), it held its own at the box office, grossing an impressive $3.155 million. See more »


King Louis XI, a monarch of the 15th century, is addressed as His Majesty. The first monarch to receive the title of Majesty was Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire=Germany in the 16th century. See more »


Clopin: [to Gringoire immediately following flogging of Quasimodo] Never trust a man with pinched nostrils and thin lips.
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Ave Maria
(1572) (uncredited)
Music by Tomás Luis de Victoria
Sung by mixed chorus during opening credits
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

I wish Hugo could have seen it.
14 June 2002 | by See all my reviews

The ending differs from Hugo's novel,but I guess it was necessary to bestow on the audiences a de rigueur happy end when the world situation was getting worse and worse.It' s also dubious that king Louis XI -who died in 1483- might have been aware of Christophe Colomb's plans ,because the latter only informed the king of Portugal-who refused to put up the money for his expedition- in ...1484!

These are minor squabbles.Because this movie is definitely the finest version of Hugo's classic ,much superior to the French one ,directed by Jean Delannoy(1956) with Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida.Dieterle's work is a feast for the eyes with numerous classic scenes ,very clever dialogue,superlative performances and complete mastery of the camera.

The opening-Louis XI visiting a printing house-sums up the turning of history:Gutenberg's invention will allow the knowledge and as the King watches the cathedrals ,he makes us feel that these books of stone are fast becoming a thing of the past.The Middle Ages are coming to an end,but a lot of people ,particularly the clergy do not want to lose the power they have on the populace.When Frollo sentences Esmeralda to death,because of his sexual desire,he puts the blame on the devil.He's a man of the past,diametrically opposite to Gringoire,who epitomizes modernity,and who understands the power of the pamphlet which the printing increases tenfold.

Charles Laughton is by far the best Quasimodo that can be seen on a screen:he's so extraordinary that he almost turns the happy end into a tragedy!He gets good support from a moving and extremely beautiful O'Hara as Esmeralda and from Harwicke as Frollo.

Peaks:the fools day,the cour des miracles -maybe showing some influence by Browning's "freaks"-,all the scenes in the cathedral.Dieterle is on par with the most demanding directors all along his movie:the movements in the crowd are stunning,breathtaking,often filmed from the church towers.Humor is not absent either:Gregoire's eventful night in the cour des Miracles is colorful and funny and scary all at once.

A monument,like the cathedral itself.

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