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A sweeping claim? Perhaps. But despite the presence in Hollywood over sixty
subsequent years of Ford, Wyler, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese et al, The
Hunchback of Notre Dame remains as fresh, as emotionally resonant and yes as
powerfully artistic as the day it was made. What constitutes 'art' is of
course a personal matter, just as the Breughel-like compositions of
Hunchback might be as mystifying to someone whose favourite film is A
Clockwork Orange (Lichtenstein?). But what makes Hunchback so satisfying as
art is precisely that its makers didn't set out with art in mind. Dieterle
and his co-creators embarked on the project with the aim of telling a great
yarn, making it look authentic, and above all ENTERTAINING the audience. It
is to this end that the Grand Guignol excesses of the novel were trimmed or
altered, and the Hollywood bittersweet ending imposed. Audiences filed out
with their Kleenex in hand having witnessed a three-ring circus of a movie,
then went home to read the war-soaked newspapers.
Virtually every frame of this movie could be taken in isolation, made into a poster and hung on a wall. Examples include Gringoire cradling the dying Clopin as a rivulet of lead trickles past in the background, the voyeuristic eye of Quasimodo peering through fence palings at the dancing Esmeralda - I could go on and on. And pervading it all is the magnificent score of Alfred Newman, surely his finest ever.
Rather than sing its obvious praises, the film can simply speak for itself. As narrative, as character, as cinema craft, it is totally successful throughout. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my favourite film of all time, bar none. Ten out of ten
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.
Though the French have done many versions of Victor Hugo's celebrated
classic, this version starring Charles Laughton has certainly stood the
test of time and is the best known and loved in the English speaking
Lon Chaney, Sr. did an acclaimed silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Laughton was following a great tradition. And he did it in the manner of Chaney, almost without dialog. Not that Hugo wrote too much dialog for Quasimodo in his story, but except for his time with Esmerelda in the tower after he rescues her, Laughton is almost speechless in the film. Of course his character in addition to being deformed is also deaf from the ringing of those cathedral bells.
Quasimodo born deformed as he was, was left as an orphan on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral in medieval Paris. Raised in the sheltered atmosphere of the church, he derives some joy in his duties as the bell ringer in the tower. His mentor is the brother of the archbishop played by Cedric Hardwicke and the archbishop is Walter Hampden. Quasimodo's life is useful, but without love.
But Laughton is crushing out on Esmerelda the gypsy girl played by Maureen O'Hara in her American screen debut. Problem is that Hardwicke is also getting hot and bothered by her.
Hardwicke's role is the second best acted in the film next to Laughton's. He's a man with shall we say some issues. He's purportedly committed to the church and it's celibacy requirements. But Dr. Freud wasn't around back in the day of Louis XI to tell us about sex drives. Hardwicke's desires mean only one thing, Esmerelda has to have bewitched him. When he kills Alan Marshal who is also interested in Maureen and looks like he's about to round third so to speak, the blame goes on Maureen.
What I like about the story is how the lives of two very ordinary people, Quasimodo and Esmerelda, become the focal point for a whole lot of religious and political issues of the day. The church, the peasants, the just developing middle class, and the nobility all have an agenda as far as the Esmerelda murder case is going. The only agenda poor Quasimodo has is he's in love with her.
Maureen O'Hara who was a discovery of Charles Laughton back in the United Kingdom was pushed by Laughton for the role of Esmerelda and traveled with him to America to play the part. She was grateful to him ever afterwards for any career she had and can't praise him enough for getting RKO to sign her.
Harry Davenport probably plays the most benign Louis XI ever put on film. It sure is a far cry from Basil Rathbone in If I Were King or Robert Morley in Quentin Durward. He plays him like the kindly grandfather he usually plays on screen.
Thomas Mitchell as Clopin the king of beggars and Edmond O'Brien as Gringoire the poet are two other significant roles. O'Brien gets his first substantial role on screen in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and this was a banner year for Thomas Mitchell. In 1939 he was also in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone With the Wind and Stagecoach for which he won Best Supporting Actor. He could have though for any one of these films.
When all is said and done though the film belongs to Charles Laughton who was the screen's best portrayer of tortured humanity. Even beneath all of Bud Westmore's grotesque make-up we can feel his anguish. He's not a stupid man Quasimodo, he knows how repulsive he is to most of the human race. He's childlike though, something like Peter Sellers in Being There, another character raised in a secluded atmosphere.
To see Charles Laughton at the top of his game in my humble opinion one has to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
This version of "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" is the finest film version that I've ever seen and the critics normally agree that it's the best screen adaptation of the classic novel. Charles Laughton is unforgettable as the pathetic, misshapen bellringer who falls in love with a beautiful gypsy girl. He brings such a range of emotions and expressions to his role that he will always be instantly recognizable, in his make-up, as Quasimodo and his performance will always be lauded as one of the best on the screen. Maureen O'Hara is stunning (in her first American film) as Esmeralda, the gypsy girl. She is lovely to look at in each one of her scene's and shows a special sort of kindness and sympathy toward the hunchback that other actresses who have played the role have failed to convey in the role (albeit, Patsy Ruth Miller was very good in the Lon Chaney silent version). There are many touching scenes in this film; Esmeralda bringing Quasimodo water while he's on the pillory, the rousing saving of Esmeralda from the gallows and the bittersweet finale (which makes one melt like butter) are all cinematic gems. Also, there is the splendor of many memorable mob scenes and a beautiful reconstruction of medieval beggar ridden Paris. See this version. It's the best one to date and is yet another one of the many jewels in Hollywood's 1939 crown!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is shrouded in romance, myth,
mystery and intrigue... Throughout the ages, poets and writers have
drawn inspiration from her splendor... Generations have found both
wonder and terror in the gargoyles that appear menacingly from her thin
Hailed by critics as the most important of French Romantic writers, Victor Hugo invented his own version of the historical novel, combining the local color and historical detail of Honoré de Balzac and the spiritual lecture of George Sand..
The film, set in 15th century medieval period, tells a moving story of a Gypsy girl Esmeralda who comes to Paris to intercede with the King Louis XI (Harry Davenport) for her people... While there, she earns her living as a dancer arising passion in the Chief Justice of Paris, Jean Frollo, a sinister priest, who discovers that she favors Captain Phoebus (Alan Marshal).
Frollo sends the deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral, Quasimodo, to kidnap her... Esmeralda is rescued by the captain of the guard who is later stabbed by Frollo with the blame being thrust on her...
Under torture, she confesses to the crime and is sentenced to be hung... But she is saved by the hunchback who attempts to shelter her in the cathedral...
Much of the rich atmosphere is concretely seen in this version: The persecution of Gypsies; the happy Festival of the Fools; the conclave of thieves and beggars in the Court of Miracles; the punishment of Quasimodo; the Cathedral and its role as the center of medieval Paris... The highest dramatic moment of the film comes when Clopin (Thomas Mitchell) calls upon his half-starved mob to attack the fortified cathedral and rescue Esmeralda...
Charles Laughton is cast as Quasimodo, Hugo's extremely disfigured man... Quasimodo is a monstrous 'King of Fools' with inner beauty, strength and nobility... He is deaf for the sound of the bells he loves... In this distorted body with ugly face, there is lot of humanity, kindness and gratitude...
Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays the privileged arch villain Jean Frollo, who controls medieval France... He is an ambitious priest who resists the force of political change against the church... He is a man with emotion and passion, blinded by a false light, obsessed, confused and tormented by a lustful desire...
Maureen O'Hara plays the enchanting Esmeralda, a young naive Gypsy dancer, innocent and pure...
Edmond O'Brien (in his film debut) plays an impertinent dreamer who arouses laughter and amusement with his adventures in the Court of Miracles...
Harry Davenport plays a fascinated King, happy to live in an age of great beginnings, determined to take his bath twice a year...
William Dieterle's film is a small masterpiece, projecting deep feeling for the human soul, love of the fantastic, the mystical and the grotesque...
The best of the many versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for my money,
is this one, although Lon Chaney's is a close second. Despite a Hollywood
tendancy to change the novel's ending so as not to depress the cash
customers (although, pray tell, if you're going to change the ending, why
does no one ever see Quasimodo sailing off to Tahiti with the girl? Rule #
1: strong, handsome poets beat out disfigured cripples every time, even if
they're heroes. This is more true in real life than in the movies. Take my
word for this, I know from painful experience *sigh*)
Charles Laughton is exceptional and Maureen O'Hara would make any man swoon and is perfect for the part of Esmerelda. The support includes the usual suspects-Thomas Mitchell, Harry Davenport and many other familiar character actors. Strike up the band and start the parade. Thunderous applause. Most highly recommended.
Charles Laughton's boisterous portrayal of Quasimodo and Maureen
O'Hara's charm as Esmerelda are two of the things that make this
version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" a fine production that still
works very well. Most of the versions of the story have been at least
watchable, because the Victor Hugo novel provides so much good material
to work with, much of it well-suited for cinema. This adaptation,
though, is one of the best at making good use of what it offers.
It's interesting to compare this picture with the 1923 Lon Chaney version - not for the sake of ranking them, since both are fully worthy of attention in their own right, but because they offer somewhat different strengths, and because they emphasize somewhat different aspects of the story.
Chaney and Laughton are both quite effective as Quasimodo, each giving an interpretation of the character that corresponds to the actor's skills. Laughton brings out Quasimodo's feelings and perspective quite well. In this version, for example, the flogging scene is longer and more detailed, and it is one of Laughton's most effective scenes. Chaney is particularly good at reacting to the other characters and their actions. Both give the character a distinctive and memorable look.
O'Hara is also one of this adaptation's strengths. Patsy Ruth Miller was good in the Chaney version, but O'Hara has the advantage of spoken dialogue, and she makes the character of Esmerelda her own.
While the Chaney version especially emphasized the atmosphere, this one has quite a bit of action. The tumultuous climactic sequences are done quite well, and they leave a vivid impression. Overall, this is a very satisfying adaptation of the fine classic novel.
Losy in the monatge of 1939 films ...somewhat is a film I believe is
more enriching and florid than " Gone With The Wind" and possibly just
as romantic as " Wuthering Heights"
Laughton's performance is one of the most astonishing put on film ever. A Stellar cast is in place from O' Hara to O' Brien..What can I say , Thomas Mitchell who probably graced more films than any other actor is superb.
Hugo,s timeless classic is brought to life in black and white and with sets that make you feel ..you are there.
The great Cedric Hardwicke potrays the tormented one and for sure ..its 116 minutes of pure film making ..and it all takes place on fools day....
In the end of Fifteenth Century, in the Feast of Fools in Paris, the
deformed bell ringer Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) is elected the King
of Fools. The gorgeous gypsy Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara) does not have
the necessary permit to stay in Paris and seeks sanctuary in the Notre
Dame with the Archbishop of Paris. His brother, the Chief of Justice
Frollo (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), has a repressed lust for the gypsy
dancer and tries to force Esmeralda to go with him to the tower of the
Cathedral. However she flees and Frollo orders Quasimodo to abduct the
Quasimodo catches her but she is rescued by Captain Phoebus (Alan Marshal) and feels a crush on him. Quasimodo is arrested and sentenced to be whipped in the square of Notre Dame. When he begs for water, Esmeralda is the only person that gives water to him. Meanwhile Esmeralda helps the poet Gringoire (Edmond O'Brien) that was going to be hanged by the King of the Beggars, accepting to marry Gringoire to save him from the gallows.
Esmeralda flirts with Captain Phoebus in a party and he is stabbed on his back by the jealous Frollo. Esmeralda takes the blame and is sentenced to the gallows. But Quasimodo rescues Esmeralda and brings her to the sanctuary of Notre Dame and expresses his love for the gypsy. Meanwhile a fight of classes between the nobles led by Frollo that want to hang Esmeralda, and the people, led by the beggars, gypsies and poets that want to protect the woman takes place.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is one of the cruelest romances of the literature and cinema history in a dark age in France. The author of "Les Misérables", Victor Hugo, writes another heartbreaking novel, describing the fight of classes in the French society in the end of the Middle Ages. In this version of this sad tale of injustice, Charles Laughton is awesome with a memorable performance and Maureen O'Hara is very beautiful in the role of the seductive gypsy. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "O Corcunda de Notre Dame" ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame")
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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